At thirteen, Harriman Gray entered one of his model ships into the competition at the county fair.
Every day after school, when homework permitted, he'd spend hours among piles of colored clickbricks, meticulously constructing models of every type of EarthForce ship. Starfuries and shuttles were easy - they only took a few days to build. Even an Olympus class corvette was straightforward - he'd built so many, he could turn one around in under a week. His father had flown on one of those during the Dilgar war.
Other models were much more complex and could take weeks to build. The Hyperion class and Nova class destroyers were larger than the Olympus, after all. Those kits had more pieces.
Several of Gray's smaller models hung from his ceiling. The walls of his room were covered with plane and starship posters, while neatly tucked away in his closet, he kept a chest with replicas of flight patches going back to the 20th century. Gray hoped some day to have a replica of every flight patch ever made.
He knew that one day, he wouldn't just build models - he'd serve on one of these EarthForce ships. He'd fly one of these ships. He could apply to AirDome at sixteen, and enter at seventeen. After two months of basic training, he'd be in the cockpit of a real Starfury.
In his small mid-western town, he didn't have many friends - while his classmates were into sports and new romantic interests, Gray was only into planes and spacecraft. If it didn't fly, it didn't interest him - and none of his classmates cared how many plasma cannons and pulse cannons were carried on a Hyperion class warship. They didn't want to hear about ion particle drives and g-forces and Starfury evasive maneuvers. He mostly kept to himself, but some of the local bullies picked on him anyway.
Even at thirteen, he was counting down the age when he could learn to fly for real. He swore he'd get his wings and leave his little town forever - he'd fly away and never look back.
In the meantime, he entered one of his best model ships into the youth division "Arts and Model Building" competition at the county fair. This Hyperion model was over four feet long - Gray's parents and older sisters helped him pack it up so it wouldn't get damaged, and load it into the truck.
Gray was sure he would win some ribbon - how could there be any other kid in the county who built better models? Sure, there were artists and sculptors and other talented kids, but he'd spent over a month on this ship, careful to get every single detail exactly right, from the hull to the guns to the Starfuries and shuttles it carried. His model wasn't just the outside of the ship, either - if you opened it up, you'd see that he'd built all the interior compartments to scale, as well, at least as well as his models would allow. There was no way he wouldn't win a ribbon.
On a Friday, after work, his father drove the model two hours to the fair grounds. Gray's competition would be on Sunday - he could hardly sleep that whole weekend. Finally, he'd have his day. The townsfolk would clap for him as he walked across the stage. He'd have his picture in the newspaper! He'd show those bullies, he would.
But when he and his family arrived at the fair on Sunday morning, the organizers pulled his parents aside for a chat. From a distance, he saw them shouting and pointing back and forth, he saw his father stomping on the dirt, he heard curses flying. His stomach sank. Had the county fair lost his ship? How could they have lost it? It was four feet long! Had it been damaged? There were still a few hours till the competition began - if he could get to the ship, he could rebuild the damaged parts. He knew the whole thing by heart. He didn't even have to finish the inside, as long as he got the outside back together.
The ship, however, was in worse shape than he'd thought - once he got in to see it, he saw that someone had smashed it into a huge pile of colored clickbricks. A turret lay here, a tiny Starfury there, pieces of the armored hull lay scattered among the remains. The bullies hadn't merely smashed it - they'd pulled apart! The fair organizers said they were investigating - the culprit (or culprits) had smashed the model overnight, and the staff had arrived to find it in the same shape Gray had.
And they'd only targeted Gray's ship.
Who could have done it? he wondered. Someone else in the competition, who didn't stand a chance at winning if Gray's model survived? Someone who hated him just because he was a nerd?
"My son worked on that ship for months!" his father was shouting, behind him, out by the door. "Don't you have any damn security here?"
"I'm so, sorry Mr. Gray..."
"You don't have a clue what this means to my son! If I wasn't a good Christian, I'd kick your sorry asses! And God help me if I find the kids who did this. This is a disrespect to me, my family and all of EarthForce! I served in the war, you know. I fought the Dilgar. I put my ass on the line, and you can't even find a room with a damn lock!"
Gray looked at the pile of clickbricks and held back tears. He wouldn't let the whole town see him cry.
It's just a model, he told himself. Dad saw real ships blown apart in the war, real ships with real people on-board. I'll make another model, even bigger and better than this one. And when I'm sixteen, I'll apply to AirDome and get the hell out. They can break my ship, but they can't stop me - they can smash my clickbricks, but they can't smash my dreams.