Rite of Passage
By Robert Moriyama
Based on art by
William R. Warren, Jr. as well as characters and
situations created by Bill Wolfe, Casey Callaghan, and N.J. Kailhofer
Some of the
individual versions of the
stories in this series were written
for forum flash challenge contests to help create this "world." As
such, stories may not match the characters or settings of the
continuous version of the story, which blended all the entries together.
Aphelion One, Day 172
Godlumathakathi Zwelitini -- "Gode" to his crewmates on Aphelion One
-- normally enjoyed the prospect of an EVA. His life under the
limitless skies of South Africa had been poor preparation for six
months inside a spacecraft whose interior seemed barely larger than a
big bus, and being outside -- even swaddled in a bulky vacuum suit --
felt like emerging from a cramped cave into daylight. But this
excursion was different -- there had been little time to prepare or
plan, the task at hand was urgent, and he had less than an hour before
the charged particle front from the predicted solar flare was due to
Just to make things perfect, today was his 41st birthday. Zulus didn't celebrate birthdays the way umlungu
-- Europeans -- did, only taking special note when certain milestones
were reached. But the crew had insisted on baking -- well, thawing -- a
cake for him, or what passed for cake in the ship's stores, as they had
for everyone else whose odometers had clicked off another year. He'd
even had to share some of his precious store of popcorn!
"Clock's ticking, Gode," the Captain prompted. "If you can't unjam
the protective shrouds, the solar panels and exposed comm gear will get
toasted for sure." As usual, Alexander Curtis was standing by in the
airlock in case something went wrong -- as it had for poor Ophelia over
on Aphelion Two.
Gode raised his right hand to his helmet in acknowledgment and let
go of the handhold closest to the airlock with his left. Swinging his
left arm smoothly backward imparted enough momentum to pivot his body
and his right hand back toward the hull so he could catch the next
Now floating parallel to the ship, he checked to ensure that his
safety line was firmly clipped to the lanyard and began to "climb"
toward the panels that concealed the umbrella-like shroud intended to
"shade" the solar panels from the storm of radiation that would erupt
from the surface of the sun in -- twenty minutes?
On Earth, haste makes waste -- in space, haste kills, he recited.
"Gode. Are you okay?"
"I'm -- I'm almost there," Gode replied. And then he was there, and
he could see the dented panel that had prevented the shroud from
opening on command.
"Looks like we took a hit from something," he said. "One of the breakaway panels is bent..."
"Can you fix it?"
"One second," Gode grunted. He reached into the toolkit velcroed to
his chest and pulled out a long screwdriver. It was the closest thing
to a pry bar he had -- so it would have to do.
He tightened his grip on the handhold and braced himself, then
thrust the tip of the screwdriver into the gap between the dented panel
and its neighbor. It took all his strength to keep his body stationary
and still apply any leverage at all...
The panel popped open suddenly, and the screwdriver sprang from his hand and tumbled away into the blackness.
"Got it!" Gode exclaimed. "Send the command again and let's see if we're in business."
A moment later, a ring of panels extending around the circumference
of the ship bent back on themselves, and something that looked like a
fine silver mist -- actually metal mesh -- bloomed outward on a complex
scaffolding of hair-thin tubes. Hard to believe that can make any difference, Gode thought. Of course, once it's charged up, I guess the magnetic field does the rest.
"Time's up, Gode! We have about five minutes to get our asses into
the storm cellar. Let go of the handhold -- I'll belay you in with the
Startled, Gode did as he was directed, and felt a sharp tug start
him floating back toward the airlock. Curtis had emerged from the
airlock and clipped himself to the hatch, and was pulling Gode's line
in, hand over hand.
"Oh, this is going to leave a mark," Curtis said, just before Gode
collided with him like a slow-moving freight train. But the Captain had
obviously executed similar emergency retrievals in the past -- he
absorbed much of the momentum with his bent legs, pivoting so that both
men tumbled into the airlock. Curtis slapped the emergency
pressurization button as he caromed off the wall and back into Gode
again, and the outer hatch closed. The interior of the airlock filled
with fog as the moisture in the stored air condensed in the chill
surrounding their suits.
Curtis shed his own helmet and left it floating in mid-air. "Leave your helmet here and move
-- we'll have to shed the suits just outside the storm cellar!" Then he
dived headfirst through the inner hatch and ricocheted his way through
the ship toward the service module.
Muttering a prayer, Gode did likewise. He crashed and rebounded from
hatch frame after hatch frame until he reached the entrance to the
radiation shelter at the center of the service module, bruised but
mostly intact. He clambered out of his suit and dived through the storm
cellar hatch just as the radiation alarm began to wail, and someone
slammed the hatch behind him.
"The shroud deployed," Gode gasped. "Did it power up okay?"
Chang Wei nodded, consulting a flatscreen inset into the far -- all
of two-point-five meters away -- wall. "So far, so good -- no major
spikes in any of the systems." Then he frowned. "What is that smell?
Gode -- is that you?"
Gode grinned apologetically. "I was very nervous," he said. "I sweat when I am nervous."
Penny Jones sighed. "I would have brought some aromatic herbs if I had known."
"On the bright side," Curtis said, "We'll only be stuck in here for -- a couple of days."
I suppose this qualifies as a milestone in my life, Gode thought. My most embarrassing moment. Ilanga elimndandi kuwe --Happy Birthday, old man.
©2009 Robert Moriyama
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