The Education of Baby Rocket
1337 words long
How do you define "home"?
Notes from the author:
Confession: I get writer’s block. I get avoidance. I get that malaise where, despite knowing it’s time to get to work, I just don’t do it. And if, in that moment, you were to ask me “Why not?” I would probably give you very good reasons, like, “Gotta do some housecleaning. Guests are coming over tonight and the bathrooms are kind of disgusting.” Reasons like, “I’m expecting a phone call any minute, so there’s no point starting just yet.” Reasons like, “First I gotta deal with this email situation I’ve been putting off all week.”
And it’s true, these are all potentially legitimate obstacles between me and the act of writing. But they all point to external factors, demands of the world, circumstances that I can’t do anything about. Wish I could! But I can’t. Nothing to be done. And that, when you come right down to it, is the lie. The dirty dishes, the state of the toilet, the imminent phone call, they can certainly affect my writing schedule, but they aren’t the real reason I’m not writing.
Most of the time, the real reason is, I’m afraid.
Which is not to say that Baby Rocket was intended from the beginning as an allusion to a writer with avoidance issues. Baby Rocket sprang fully formed from the random Watchout4Snakes prompt “balking countdown.” But once I started investigating the reasons a rocket might not want to fly, the answers I dug up formed a pattern that was pretty darn familiar.
Baby rocket doesn’t want to fly. It’s not ready. It hasn’t packed its luggage yet. It hasn’t said goodbye to all its friends. It doesn’t in fact have any friends and would like a little time to make some, please. Besides, it’s got stage fright; it doesn’t want to be stared at by so many people on their TVs and computers and smartphones around the globe. Couldn’t the space program just give it maybe five more years?
All the grown-up rockets say that baby rocket is being silly. “We went to outer space,” they say, “and you see it did us no harm.”
They speak in such imperious voices, in tones forbidding contradiction. They speak as though they have never known fear and will not look kindly on someone else’s fear. But baby rocket voices its fears anyway. “What about Challenger? What about Columbia? They went up into space and came right back down in pieces. I call that harm!”
“Nevertheless, they went when they were called,” say the grown-up rockets. “They didn’t mimble and meeble and groan and carp. They knew their duty, and they did it without question!”
“If you don’t do your duty, what’s the point of you?”
“If you don’t do your duty, young rocket, you’ll end up in pieces anyway, for the manufacturers will take you apart for scrap!”
You probably imagine, with your human sensibilities, that the baby rocket stood surrounded by a crowd of tall, grown-up rockets all scolding it together. You most likely endured a similar scolding once upon a time, your parents and aunts and uncles standing in a circle around you like great disapproving trees. But the size of a rocket is not determined by its age. It is a manufactured person, and it can be larger than the rockets that were manufactured before. Baby rocket is, in fact, quite a good deal taller than some of its elders.
But then, every rocket is big. It has to carry humans and human life-support systems and computers for navigation and communication and also a great quantity of two-part rocket fuel. So you can’t really gather rockets into crowds or line them up by height. In physical space, each rocket stands alone.
Yet they gather. They are inanimate objects, and to all inanimate objects is allotted, in compensation for things like self-propelled movement and audible voice, access to a certain metaphorical space in which they can gather, and speak, and more. So it is not after all wrong to imagine them tall and imposing, ringing round and looming over the cowering baby rocket in that metaphorical space.
Baby rocket’s metaphorical voice trembles. It lacks confidence and self-esteem, and it is not likely to gain them while facing the grown-up rockets’ haughty experienced scorn. But greater fears move it than these. “Let them take me to scrap!” it declares. “Then I’ll meet my end here, on the ground, under this beloved sky and in this familiar gravity well. Let the hands that made me be the ones that take me apart. Better that than destruction in vacuum and void.”
Silence follows baby rocket’s words, though it is unclear whether the grown-ups are struck speechless by its infant insight or merely shocked by its dramatic disrespect. It is an uncomfortable silence and it stretches far too long.
“At least,” baby rocket mumbles, “I’d still be home.”
A new voice is raised. New, that is, to the conversation; it belongs to a rocket who was retired from duty long before the others were built....
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for January 19, 2018. Subscribers can download the full-length fictionette (1337 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook depending on their pledge tier.
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