The Education of Baby Rocket (HTML excerpt)
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.

Cover art incorporates public domain image created by NASA.

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