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«Rite of Passage», Alexei Panshin

THIS BOOK IS FOR CHARLES AND MARSHA BROWN

  • They that have power to hurt and will do none,
  • That do not do the thing they most do show,
  • Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
  • Unmoved, cold and to temptation slow;
  • They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
  • And husband nature's riches from expense;
  • They are the lords and owners of their faces,
  • Others but stewards of their excellence.
  • The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
  • Though to itself it only live and die,
  • But if that flower with base infection meet,
  • The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
  • For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
  • Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

SONNET XCIV, William Shakespeare

PART I: GETTING UNFROZEN

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 fiat. When he started teasing, the only thing I could say was that it simply wasn't true. After awhile, 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 one hundred and sixty-four 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 9th 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 one hundred and sixty-four 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 seven acted badly and had to be morally disciplined, so around ninety still exist.)


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