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Rite of Passage [MultiFormat]
eBook by Alexei Panshin

eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy Nebula Award(R) Winner, Hugo Award Nominee, Locus Poll Award Nominee
eBook Description: After the destruction of Earth, humanity has established itself precariously among a hundred planets. Between them roam the vast Ships, doling out scientific knowledge in exchange for raw materials. On one of the Ships lives Mia Havero. Belligerent soccer player, intrepid explorer of ventilation shafts, Mia tests all the boundaries of her insulated world. She will soon be tested in turn. At the age of fourteen all Ship children must endure a month unaided in the wilds of a colony world, and although Mia has learned much through formal study, about philosophy, economics, and the business of survival, she will find that her most vital lessons are the ones she must teach herself. Published originally in 1968, Alexei Panshin's Nebula Award-winning classic has lost none of its relevance, with its keen exploration of societal stagnation and the resilience of youth.

eBook Publisher: Electricstory.com, Published: 1968
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2001

96 Reader Ratings:
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Part I: Getting Unfrozen
Chapter 1
To be honest, I haven't been able to remember clearly everything that happened to me before and during Trial, so where necessary I've filled in with possibilities--lies, if you want.

There is no doubt that I never said things half as smoothly as I set them down here, and probably no one else did either. Some of the incidents are wholly made up. It doesn't matter, though. Everything here is near enough to what happened, and the important part of this story is not the events so much as the changes that started taking place in me seven years ago. The changes are the things to keep your eye on. Without them, I wouldn't be studying to be an ordinologist, I wouldn't be married to the same man, and I wouldn't even be alive. The changes are given exactly--no lies.

I remember that it was a long time before I started to grow. That was important to me. When I was twelve, I was a little black-haired, black-eyed girl, short, small, and without even the promise of a figure. My friends had started to change while I continued to be the same as I had always been, and I had begun to lose hope. For one thing, according to Daddy I was frozen the way I was. He hit upon that when I was ten, one day when he was in a teasing mood.

"Mia," he said, "I like you the way you are right now. It would be a real shame if you were to grow up and change."

I said, "But I want to grow up."

"No," Daddy said thoughtfully. "I think I'll just freeze you the way you are right now." He waved a hand. "Consider yourself frozen."

I was so obviously annoyed that Daddy continued to play the game. By the time that I was twelve I was doing my best to ignore it, but it was hard sometimes just because I hadn't done any real growing since I was ten. I was just as short, just as small, and just as flat. When he started teasing, the only thing I could say was that it simply wasn't true. After a while, I stopped saying anything.

Just before we left Alfing Quad, I walked in with a black eye. Daddy looked at me and the only thing he said was, "Well, did you win or did you lose?"

"I won," I said.

"In that case," Daddy said, "I suppose I won't have to unfreeze you. Not as long as you can hold your own."

That was when I was twelve. I didn't answer because I didn't have anything to say. And besides, I was mad at Daddy anyway.

Not growing was part of my obvious problem. The other part was that I was standing on a tightrope. I didn't want to go forward--I didn't like what I saw there. But I couldn't go back, either, because I tried that and it didn't work. And you can't spend your life on a tightrope. I didn't know what to do.

There are three major holidays here in the Ship, as well as several minor ones. On August 14, we celebrate the launching of the Ship--last August it was 164 years ago. Then, between December 30 and January 1, we celebrate Year End. Five days of no school, no tutoring, no work. Dinners, decorations hung everywhere, friends visiting, presents, parties. Every fourth year we tack on one more day. These are the two fun holidays.

March 9 is something different. That's the day that Earth was destroyed and it isn't the sort of thing you celebrate. It's just something you remember.

From what I learned in school, population pressure is the ultimate cause of every war. In 2041, there were eight billion people on Earth alone, and nobody even had free room to sneeze. There were not enough houses, not enough schools or teachers, inadequate roads and impossible traffic, natural resources were going or gone, and everybody was a little bit hungry all the time, although nobody was actually starving. Nobody dared to raise his voice because if he did he might disturb a hundred other people, and they had laws and ordinances to bring the point home--it must have been like being in a library with a stuffy librarian twenty-four hours a day. And the population continued to rise. There was a limit to how long all this could go on, and that end was reached 164 years ago.

I'm lucky, I know, even to be alive at all. My great great grandparents were among those who saw it coming and that's the only reason I'm here.

It wasn't a case of moving elsewhere in the Solar System. Not only was Earth the only good real estate in the vicinity, but when Earth was destroyed so was every colony in the system. The first of the Great Ships was finished in 2025. One of the eight that were in service as well as two more that were uncompleted went up with everything else in 2041. Between those two years we Ships planted 112 colonies on planets in as many star systems. (There were 112 at the beginning, but a fair number simply failed and at least 7 acted badly and had to be morally disciplined, so around 90 still exist.)

We in the Ships learned our lesson, and though our Ship has only a small, closed population, we won't degenerate. We won't become overpopulated, either. We have a safety valve. Within three months of the day you turn fourteen, they take you from the Ship and drop you on one of the colony planets to survive as best you can for thirty days. There are no exceptions and a reasonably high percentage of deaths. If you are stupid, foolish, immature, or simply unlucky, you won't live through the month. If you do come home, you are an adult. My problem was that at twelve I wasn't afraid to die, but I was afraid to leave the Ship. I couldn't even face leaving the quad we lived in.

We call that month of survival Trial, and I don't think there was a day from the time I was eleven that it wasn't in my thoughts at least once. When I was eleven, a man named Chatterji had a son due to go on Trial, and he had serious doubts that the boy would make it. So he went to a great deal of trouble to try to ease the boy through. He found out where his son was to be dropped and then he coached him on every danger that he knew the planet had to offer. Then, before the boy left, he slipped him a whole range of weapons that are not allowed to be carried on Trial, and he advised him to find a protected spot as soon as he landed and to hole up there for a month, not stirring at all, thinking the boy might have more of a chance that way.

The boy still didn't make it. He wasn't very bright. I don't know how he died--he may not have been able to cope with one of the dangers he knew was there; he may have run into something unexpected; he may accidentally have blown his head off with one of those weapons he wasn't supposed to have; or he may simply have tripped over his own feet and broken his neck--but he didn't live to come home.

And Mr. Chatterji was expelled from the Ship. He may have died, too.

This may sound harsh--I can't judge. It doesn't really matter whether or not it's harsh, because it was necessary and I knew that it was necessary long before I was even eleven. At the time, however, this made a great impression on me, and if I had been able to force myself to face things outside the confines of the quad in which I lived I would have rested much easier.

There may have been other reasons, but I suspect that all this is why when Daddy became Chairman of the Ship's Council he decided that we had to move.

Boys and girls, all of us in the Ship grew up playing soccer. I'm sure I knew how to play by the time I was four or five, and I was certainly kicking the ball around earlier than that. We used to play every chance we got, so it wasn't surprising that I was playing soccer in the quad yard--Alfing Quad, Fourth Level--when I got word to come home. The yard stretches three floors high and two hundred yards in each direction. There's a regulation-sized soccer field, green and beautifully kept, in the yard, but some older kids newly come back from their month of Trial and feeling twice as tall because of it had exercised their privileges and taken the field for themselves. We had moved down to the smaller field set up in the far end and were playing there.

In soccer you have a five-man front line, three halfbacks who serve as the first line of defense and who bring the ball up so the forward line can take it and score, two fullbacks who play defense only, and a goalie who guards the nets. It's a game of constant motion that stops only when a penalty is called or when a ball goes out of bounds or when a score is made, and then stops only for a moment.

I was playing the inside left position on the forward line because I have a strong, left-footed kick. It's my natural kicking foot.

From midfield, trying to catch my breath after running hard, I watched our goalie dive on a hard boot at the nets. He was up almost instantly, bounced the ball once, then held it and kicked it high and long. The goalies are the only players on the field who are allowed to touch the ball with their hands. The rest of us have to use our heads, elbows, knees, and feet. That's what makes the game interesting.

Our right halfback knocked the ball down and trapped it with his foot, The instant he had control, he passed the ball over to Mary Carpentier at center halfback and we all started ahead on a rush for the goal.

The ball crisscrossed between our halfbacks running behind us up the field almost as though it had a life of its own, a round brown shape that darted and dodged and leaped in the air, but always was caught and controlled, never quite getting away.

Once the other team intercepted the ball and it went back past midfield, but Jay Widner picked off a bad pass and we began to rush again. Finally Mary Carpentier headed a pass to me when I was in the clear for a moment. I had a step on Venie Morlock, who was playing fullback against me. She was big, but slow. Even having to concentrate on keeping the ball moving in front of me, I was faster than she was. I had a good opening for a shot at the goal when Venie saw she couldn't get the ball. She swerved into me, gave me a neat hip, and sent me skidding onto my face. I was running full tilt and couldn't help myself. I went flying and hit hard. My kick went bouncing out-of-bounds wide of the white posts and the net of the goal.

I looked up, sputtering mad. "Soccer is not a contact sport!" I said.

It was like Venie to pull something like that if she saw no other way to keep from losing, and especially to me. We were confirmed old enemies, though I think it was more of a deliberate policy on her part than on mine. Just as I scrambled up from the floor the wall speakers whistled twice for attention.

There were always announcements coming over the speakers. This time they were calling for me. They said, "Mia Havero is wanted at home. Mia Havero is wanted at home."

Ordinarily Daddy didn't have me paged and let me come home when I was good and ready. There was a woman named Mrs. Farmer who used to tell Daddy that I was undisciplined, but that wasn't true. When Daddy did call for me, he only had to call once.

"Time for you to go home," Venie said. "Run along."

The immediate flash of anger I had felt when I was skidding along had passed, but I was still smoldering.

"I'm not ready to go yet," I said. "I have a fresh kick coming."

"What for?" Venie demanded. "It's not my fault that you ran into me."

If it was my own fault that I'd wound up on the ground, I had no reason for complaint. If it was Venie's fault, then I had a shot at the goal coming on a major penalty. That's soccer. I guess Venie thought if she denied doing anything long enough and loudly enough somebody would take her seriously.

Mary Carpentier, my best friend, spoke up then. "Oh, come off it, Venie," she said. "We all saw what happened. Let Mia take her shot so she can go home."

After some fruitless argument on Venie's part, everybody agreed I had a free kick coming. I set the ball on the X-mark on the ground in front of the goal.

The goalie was Mrs. Farmer's son, Peter, who was younger than I and slow enough to be put in the goal. He poised himself with his hands on his knees, and waited. The goal is eight feet high and twenty-four feet wide, and the ball is set down thirty-six feet away. The goalie has a big area to cover but in two quick steps he can reach any ball aimed at the goal. It takes a good shot to get by him.

Both teams stood behind and watched as I backed off a step or two from the ball. After a moment I ran, faked a kick with my good left foot, and put a weak right-footed kick dribbling just past the goalie's outstretched fingers into the corner of the nets. Then I left.

I dodged into the outside corridor and made straight for my shortcut. I unclipped a wall grate that provided an entrance to the air ducts, lifted it off, and skinnied through the hole into the dark, and then from the inside pulled the grate back into position. That was always the hardest part, clipping the grate in place from inside. I had to stick a finger through, then turn my elbow out and up so my finger could reach the clip, then wiggle the clip until it caught. My fingers just weren't long enough, so it was always a frustrating moment or two until I succeeded. When I had the grate in place, I turned and walked through the dark with a light steady breeze tickling my cheek. I concentrated on counting the inlets as I passed them.

Changing the Ship from a colony transport into a city was as big a job as turning my mother into an artist--her project ever since I could remember. And they had this much in common: neither was completely successful, so far as I'm concerned. In both cases there were a lot of loose ends dangling that should have been tied into neat square knots.

As an example, the point where our quad left off and the ones on either side began was completely a matter of administration, not walls. The quad itself, and they're all this way, was a maze of blank walls, blind alleys, endless corridors, and staircases leading in odd directions. This was done on purpose--it keeps people from getting either bored or lazy, and that's important on a Ship like ours.

In any case, there are very few straight lines, so in order to save yourself distances, you have to know which way to go. In a strange quad it's quite possible to get lost if you don't have a guide, and every so often they broadcast a general appeal to be on the lookout for some straying three-year-old.

I was in a hurry to make up lost time when I left the quad yard, so I had gone straight to my shortcut. If the Ship were a person, the air ducts would be the circulatory system. Your blood travels from your heart to your lungs, where it passes off carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen; back to the heart; into the body, where the oxygen is used and carbon dioxide is picked up; and then back to the heart again. The air in the Ship goes through the ducts to the Third Level, where it picks up oxygen; then through the ducts and into the Ship, where the air is breathed; then back into the ducts and down to Engineers, where water and dirt, carbon dioxide, and germs are removed, and a touch of clean water is added. They kick it around a little more, and then they blow it back up to the Third Level.

The ducts moved in straight lines, and walking within them you could move through walls and arrive almost anywhere faster than you could through the halls. Anybody bigger than I was was too big to squeeze through the grate openings--there were larger openings for repairmen, but they were kept locked--and all the other kids I knew were too frightened to follow me, so the shortcut remained my own private route. They all thought I was foolish to go where I did, and for the sake of prestige I liked to pretend that they were right, though they weren't. As long as you avoided the giant fans you were all right. It was simply that it was people, not things, which frightened me.

When I got to our corridor, I slipped the grate out and pulled myself up and out on the floor. I reset the grate and gave a swipe to my hair to teach it to behave and lie down flat again. I inherit my hair and eyes, my straight nose, and my complexion from my Spanish and Indian ancestors on Daddy's side of the family, and though I wear my black hair short, it will misbehave.

"Hi, Daddy," I said as I came into our apartment. "Am I late?"

The living room was in a real mess. Books and papers were all in piles on the floor and the furniture was all shoved to one side. Our home ordinarily had a lived-in look, but this was far worse than usual.

Daddy was sitting in one of the chairs, sorting books. Daddy is Miles Havero. He is a small man just into middle age with a face that is hard to read, and a very sharp mind. He is mainly a mathematician, though he sits on the Ship's Council and has for years. He and I had lived in this apartment since I left the dormitory when I was nine.

He gave me an inquiring look. "What happened to you?"

"I didn't mean to be late," I said.

"I didn't mean that," he said. "I'm talking about your clothes."

I looked down. I had on a white shirt and yellow shorts. Across the front of both were streaks of dust and grime.

The Ship is a place where it is almost impossible to get dirty. The ground in the quad yards isn't real dirt-and-grass, for one thing. It's a cellulose product set in a milled fiber and plastic base--when a square gets worn they rip it out and put in a new one, just like in your living room floor. The only place there is dirt in any quantity is the Third Level, where there isn't anything else but. A certain amount of dirt does get carried out of the Third Level and spread and tracked around the Ship. Eventually it gets sucked into the collecting chutes and blown down to Engineers on the First Level, where it is used to feed the Converters to produce heat, light, and power inside the Ship. But you can see that ordinarily there isn't much opportunity to get filthy.

I once asked Daddy why they didn't work out a system to keep the dirt at its only source--the Third Level--instead of going to the trouble of cleaning the Ship after it gets dirty. It wouldn't be hard to do.

He said, "You know what the Ship was built for, don't you?"

"Yes," I said. Everybody knows that. It was built to carry Mudeaters out to settle the Colonies--I don't call them that in Daddy's presence, by the way; though it may seem surprising, he doesn't like the word.

Daddy went on to explain. The Mudeaters--Colons, rather--were packed in at very close quarters. They weren't clean people--try to convince a peasant to wash--and people packed in as close as they were are going to sweat and stink anyway. For that reason, mainly, the Ship was built with a very efficient cleaning and air-distribution system. The Ship is used now for a completely different purpose, so we no longer need that system.

Daddy said my suggestion wasn't completely out of line.

"Why doesn't the Council do something about it, then?" I asked.

"Figure it out yourself, Mia," Daddy said. He was always after me to try to figure things out myself before I looked them up or asked him for the answers.

I did figure it out. Simply, it would be just too much trouble for too little result to scrap a complicated existing system that worked well at no present cost in favor of another system whose only virtue was its simplicity.

I brushed at my shirt and most of the dirt went its own way.

"I took a shortcut home," I said.

Daddy just nodded absently and didn't say anything. He's impossible to figure. I was once taken aside and pumped to find out how Daddy was going to vote on a Council Question. They weren't very nice people, so instead of telling them politely that I didn't have the least idea, I lied. I can't guess what Daddy is thinking--he has to tell me what's on his mind.

He set down the book he had been looking at and said, "Mia, I have some good news for you. We're going to move into a new place."

I gave a whoop and threw my arms around his dear neck.

This was news I had wanted to hear. In spite of all the empty space in the Ship, we were crowded in our apartment. Somehow, after I left the dorm and moved in with Daddy we just had never gotten around to trading in his small apartment for a larger one. We were too busy living in the one we had. The one thing I had disliked most when I was living in the dormitory was the lack of space--they feel they have to keep an eye on you there. Moving now meant that I would have a larger room for myself. Daddy had promised I could.

"Oh, Daddy," I said. "Which apartment are we going to move into?"

The population of the Ship is about thirty thousand now, but once we had transported thirty times that many and cargo besides. The truth is that I don't see where they had fit them all. But now, even though we've spread out to fill up some of the extra space, all the quads have empty apartments. If we had wanted to, we could have moved next door.

Then Daddy said, as though it made no difference, "It's a big place in Geo Quad," and the bottom fell out of my elation.

I turned away from him abruptly, feeling dizzy, and sat down. Daddy didn't just want me to leave home. He wanted me to leave the precarious stability I had worked out for myself. Until I was nine, I had nothing, and now Daddy wanted me to give up everything I had gained since then.

Even now, it isn't easy for me to talk about it. If it were not important, I would skip right over it and never say a word. I was very lonely when I was nine. I was living in a dormitory with fourteen other kids, being watched and told what to do, seeing a procession of dorm mothers come and go, feeling abandoned. That's the way it had been for me for five years, and finally there came a time when I couldn't stay there any longer, and so I ran away. I got on the shuttle, though I don't know quite how I knew where to go, and I went to see Daddy.

I kept thinking about what I'd say and what he'd say and worrying about it all the distance, so that when I finally got in to see him I was crying and hiccupping and I couldn't stop.

"What's the matter?" Daddy kept asking me, but I couldn't answer.

He took out a handkerchief and wiped my face, and he finally got me calmed down enough to find out what I was trying to tell him. It took a while, but finally I was finished and had stopped crying, and was only hiccupping occasionally.

"I'm truly sorry, Mia," he said gravely. "I hadn't really understood how things were. I thought I was doing the best thing for you. I thought you'd be better off in a dormitory with other children than living here alone with me."

"No," I said. "I want to live with you, Daddy." He looked thoughtful for a long moment, and then he gave a little nod and said, "All right. I'll call up the dorm and let them know so they won't think you're lost."

Alfing Quad then became one of the two certain things in my life. You can't count on a dorm or a dorm mother, but a quad and a father are sure. But now Daddy wanted us to leave one of my two sureties. And Geo Quad wasn't even on the Fourth Level--it was on the Fifth.

The Ship is divided into five separate levels. First Level is mainly Technical--Engineers, Salvage, Drive, Conversion, and so on. Second is mainly Administration. Third has dirt and hills, real trees and grass, sand, animals, and weeds--it's where they instruct us kids before they drop us on a planet to live or die. Fourth and Fifth are Residential, where we all live. Of these five, the Fifth is the last. All of us kids knew that if you lived way out on the Fifth Level you weren't much better than a Mudeater. If you lived on the Fifth Level you were giving up one of your claims to being human.

I sat in my chair thinking for a long time, trying to recover myself. "You can't be serious about moving to the Fifth Level?" I asked, hoping Daddy might be joking--not really hoping; more just trying to keep from facing the situation for a moment longer.

"Certainly I am," he said, as though it were nothing. "I had to hunt for a long time before I found this apartment. I've already started getting us ready to move. You'll like it there, I think. I understand there's a boy your age in the school there who's somewhat ahead of you. It will give you a chance to scratch for a while, instead of coasting along with no competition the way you do here."

I was afraid, and so I started to argue desperately, naming all the places we could move into inside Alfing. I even cried--and I didn't do that often anymore--but Daddy was unshakable. Finally I dragged my sleeve across my face to dry my eyes and folded my arms and said, "I'm not going to go."

That wasn't the right tack to take with Daddy. It just convinced him that I was being stubborn, but it wasn't stubbornness now. I was truly frightened. I was sure that if we moved things would never be the same for me again. They couldn't be.

But I couldn't say that to Daddy. I couldn't admit to him that I was afraid.

He came to the chair where I was sitting defiantly with my arms crossed and fresh tears lurking in the corners of my eyes, and he put both of his hands on my shoulders.

"Mia," he said. "I realize that it isn't easy for you, but in less than two years you will be your own master and then you can live where you please and do as you like. If you can't take an unpleasant decision now, what kind of an adult will you make then? Right now--no arguments--I am moving. You have a choice. Move with me, or move into the dormitory here in Alfing Quad."

I'd lived in a dormitory and I had no desire ever to go back. I did want to stay with Daddy, but it was still a hard decision for me to make. It was a question of which of my two certainties I wanted to give up. In the end, I made my decision.

After I wiped my eyes once again with the lower edge of my shirt, I walked slowly back down to the quad yard. When I got there, both soccer games had broken up and the whole yard was a turning kaleidoscope of colored shirts and shorts. I didn't see Venie Morlock anywhere in the mass of playing kids, so I asked a boy I knew if he had seen her.

He pointed, "She's right over there."

"Thank you," I said.

I got her down. I rubbed her nose in the ground. Then I made her beg to be let up. I got a black eye for my trouble, but it was worth it to make her remember who was who, even if I did live on the Fifth Level now.

After that, Daddy and I moved.

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