I stared down at the control panel spread out in front of me. Even now, as the entire floor shuddered beneath my chair, I couldn’t help but notice how, well, homemade the whole thing looked.
Over there, wasn’t that lever off of the lawnmower bot that had used to rumble around my backyard? And I recognized the steering handle in front of me, the one that controlled the angle of the main thrusters, as coming from that old decommissioned hover-junker that had been abandoned in my back yard a few years back after I gave up on it as a side project.
Of course, this craft was a side project, too.
But this was one that wasn’t a fleeting passion, wasn’t a passing fancy. I had wanted this for as long as I can remember, ever since my grandfather bounced me on his lap.
“Don’t forget, kid,” he had told me, as his wrinkled hands gripped me firmly and his knee bounced lightly beneath my bottom. “You’re made of star stuff.”
It wasn’t until I was older, until my grandfather was no longer alive, that I’d really come to understand what his quote truly meant. But even before I knew the meaning behind the words, it fascinated me.
Our molecules, the very building blocks of our bodies, had been forged in the crucible of stars, stars long since gone in fiery explosions. We were all created out of those remains, hydrogen atoms compressed into more complex and elaborate structures in the aftermath of their original hosts’ destruction. We were all forged from molecules, atoms, that had once been part of a fiery fission drive within the wilderness of space.
My father, of course, had reacted in typical protective fashion, ordering me to ignore the wild words of my grandfather. “Don’t get cocky, kid,” he’d tell me, ruffling my hair, when I tried to ask him questions about stars and the worlds beyond our own. “The universe is no place to be cocky. It’s dangerous, and can get you killed. Better to keep your head down.”
I looked around me at the hand-constructed vehicle in which I sat, my finger poised over the key. I was definitely not keeping my head down.
I heard a shout, faint but still audible even through this vehicle’s thick shielding. “Harry! Come out of there!”
I stood up from the seat with a grunt, pushing aside the unbuckled harness designed to hold me in place if I ever found the courage to fire up the engine. I climbed down, navigating with difficulty along the wall that was intended to be the floor. Moving inside the vehicle was tough with it pointed up at the sky, but a few minutes later, I managed to emerge out into the sunlight.
My mother stood out in the field behind our house, staring with her usual doubtfulness at my creation. “Harry, when are you going to give up on all this craziness?” she asked, with a sigh. “You’ve had your fun putting it together, but you’ll never actually launch, will you? I mean, there’s no need!”
“There’s always a need!” I exulted back at her, going through the same steps of the same argument we’d had dozens of times before. “Mom, we never explored all that’s out there! We just used a shortcut, dodging around the whole problem instead of facing the challenge head-on!”
“But the portals are safer,” my mother argued, as she’d done so many times before. “No need to go into space – just hop from our planet to another through the nethers, without needing to wait for travel time, or having to risk riding on top of a giant explosion! What you’re proposing is so dangerous, so foolhardy-“
“But portals will never show us everything!” I insisted. “Mom, portals can take us to another planet, but will they ever let us come close to a star, to truly see all that’s out there beyond the places we can comfortably rest?”
My mom crossed her arms. “The portals protect us from that danger,” she concluded, and I could tell that she refused to hear any more.
But even as I headed inside for dinner, I couldn’t risk one last look back at the big, clunky machine, its nose cone pointed up at the dusky sky. I had worked hard to wire it all together, to make every weld that held its body intact, to attach the old but reliable fusion engines that were now being sold off cheaply since the entire mode of travel had been abandoned.
The portals were safer, were easier. They took us straight to our destinations without any fuss of the trip there.
But they were never going to truly carry us to the stars.
My grandfather’s words echoed in my head, and I mentally resolved that tomorrow, as soon as the sun rose, I would launch.
We were made of star stuff, and I was going to see my creator.