I've been shopping around with this until I learned it's similar to a lesser-known Asimov story. Still, I'm somewhat proud of it, and I'd rather show it off to the world than let it collect dust on my laptop.
The nebula between his hands was spinning. Gas clouds danced and grew thicker with each rotation. Gently, he caressed the glass sphere containing them and turned it over, inspecting its sides with paternal care. The iron band holding the globe together had a set of lights on one side. They blinked in a way that pleased him. The gravity field was stable. He was ready for Phase Two.
He took the globe across the attic. Slow and deliberate steps kept him from disturbing old and loose planks of wood or bumping into the rest of his equipment. Tall grey canisters and a box filled with empty glass balls lined a wall to his left. The homemade superconductor he used to test his gravity bands filled the space next to a portable centrifuge on a wooden table. Chests housing personal effects – mementoes and some clumsily-scribbled schematics from yesteryear – were pressed together in a corner.
Soon, he was at his desk. Amid the clutter of blueprints and miscellaneous devices was a metal claw. Each of its digits ended in a wide tube, and its wrist-like base was a cone covered with switches and dials. It sat comfortably next to a photograph of his family spread out on a couch, their faces frozen in practiced joy. "I’ll make you proud," he muttered, looking briefly into their petrified eyes.
He set the globe in its grasp, lining up the machine’s fingers to the holes on the sides of the gas-filled sphere. Careful and calm, he held the ball up with one hand and reached for a button on the claw’s base with the other. A loud quartet of clicks sounded as the finger-tubes connected with the sphere. He pulled his hands away, and saw that the orb was in place.
Quickly, he ran to the side. Work clothes sat in a pile by the attic window. He switched out, pulling his gloves off and slipping on a new pair. He swiftly threw a leather smock over his body. Goggles fastened to his face, he walked back to the machine. He turned a dial on the base clockwise and lined another up with a red-coloured symbol on its immediate right.
Hands on the desk, he leaned forward and waited. Ensuring the balance of the hydrogen and helium levels was easy, but delicate. Stabilizing the gravitational field inside the globe was trickier. He remembered how the gravitational field once expanded outside its globe and upended the room for twelve seconds. He reflected on his other failures: the shattered glass and the rogue gas clouds, the burnt table, last month’s black hole scare.
More than that, he remembered the shame. Each time a globe broke or a gravity field destabilized, sheer overwhelming disdain followed. He knew he could do better; he had to do better. It was amazing for him that he got that far to begin with, but knowing what was at stake if he failed pushed him further.
Forcing the collapse of the cloud was something he only succeeded in doing twice. Neither time was successful. He was hardly superstitious, but he wrung his hands together and murmured: “Third time’s the charm.”
There was a whirr. The claw holding the globe shook and buzzed. The nebula spun in place faster than before. A pinpoint of light emerged in its centre.
A spark. Gas ignited and the inside of the globe was ablaze. Light reflected off of his goggles. He stepped back and shielded his face. The fire rose, pressing against the glass. It glowed red. A gleam enveloped the desk, rays of primal light stabbing outward. The family picture went missing in its glare.
He tensed and backed away from the blaze. Seizing the fire extinguisher he had brought up from the main floor, he undid the pin and gripped the nozzle. The black tube shook as he aimed it at his creation and prepared to douse the desk.
The gesture was unnecessary. In seconds, the flame died down. What once was a struggling fireball forcing against its bonds quickly shrank down to a little globe. His desk was intact; the photograph, unscathed.
Orange light danced inside the glass sphere. It was bold and bright and solid. Spinning slowly in its container, the tiny star flared up. Miniature sunspots and leaping snakes of fire appeared and disappeared in an instant.
He relaxed and set aside the extinguisher. Excitement brought him back to his desk again, though caution dictated the speed. Gingerly, he held his hand up to the sphere and the burning ball inside it. Its warmth was gentle.
A wry smile crept across his face. Timmy was ready for the Science Fair.
See you next time,