The problem was, change.org was a public website and social media spread information like a flood. So Phil ended up navigating several days worth of free and unsolicited advice from friends and associates who had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.
Also that one who asked if Apollo 11 really happened got his file flagged.
The problem was that the well meaning advice came from people who hadn’t watched that grainy footage, not with jealousy, though that was there too, but with absolutely delight. They hadn’t walked around with sheer wonder blanketing their brains. They hadn’t reached out and touched the screen and wished they’d been a part of it, even if that part had been stapler remover.
As much as Captain America had touched Phil’s sense of morality and justice, space had touched his sense of wonder and possibility.
SHIELD wasn’t anyone’s second choice. You didn’t grow up and want to be a SHIELD agent. NSA, CIA, FBI, maybe, but what happened was you realized what you wanted and what your agency did, didn’t quite mesh. Until one day you walked into a room for an interview you didn’t know you had and were offered a job. Very few agents, especially those of Phil’s generation, had spent much of any time chasing a different path. Especially one so public and so idealistic.
Phil had sat through PR 101 back then. He’d made it far enough that it was decided he needed more than “don’t curse in front of a live mic and don’t say anything bad about NASA”, which had been the basic instructions they all got at the beginning of the program. He knew he’d passed an important yard stick when that order for a more thorough grounding came through and the even though the very notion of speaking to reporters nauseated him, the fact that they wanted to prep him left excited butterflies in his stomach.
The problem, as he would figure out later, a long time later, was that he wasn’t sure he should want that kind of thing anymore. He was a highly trained, highly sought after, occasionally jaded, intelligence officer. He saved lives almost every day. Did he have a right to want the stars too? The whole week his stomach churned with a combination of sheer terror and 12 year old glee. A glee he hadn’t been sure he could ever feel again.
“Of course you should!” Melinda May snapped at him over lunch. Phil had flown to DC, out of respect for the offer and for the person offering it. Melinda had some business on the hill and had carved out a generous 120 minutes to answer any questions Phil might have and to, apparently, bulldoze him into an answer. One way or another.
“My schedule needs to be nailed down 18 months in advance,” Melinda had informed him, almost primly between sharp bites of steak.
Melinda made him feel young, partially because she had managed to hit 45 (his age) and not age a day. She was sharp and no nonsense in her basic black suit and low heals. Her hair was loose and her smile genuine. They’d been pretty good friends for a while. As one of the only ‘bachelor’ proto-astronauts, their close friendship had been… misconstrued… playfully, Phil supposed, for the era and he still felt shame at how much he hadn’t worked to directly squash the rumor.
When Melinda had knocked on his door at 2am, only hours ahead of the bad news from Garett, she’d offered something that Phil nearly took.
The moon made man do crazy things. And not just strap themselves on top of a controlled explosion about the size of a small nuclear bomb and travel, with the barest margin of error, to barren, inhospitable satellite, no better than a very large rock. It made him seriously consider faking an incredibly public relationship with the lead female programmer on the mission team. Probably, considering the accusations that were going to fly, up to at least a very public engagement.
The entire thing still made his head spin, so when Melinda had offered him a ride back to his hotel after lunch, he didn’t catch on until they were well into the circle.
“Where are we going?” Phil had said in a carefully over exaggerated tone. He had a good idea already, but he was going to make her admit it first.
“I wasn’t the only one who wanted to have a little talk.” She said, waving out the window and in the direction of the west gate of the white house coming up on their right.
“Uh huh.” Phil sighed, only slightly irritated. He should have known to expect something like this. He straightened his tie and cuffs with absentminded habit and tried to remember if he knew anyone he wanted to avoid while on the premises.
He was ushered, without wait and wasn’t he coming up in the world for that one, directly into the Oval office. The president was finishing up a phone call and Phil took him up on his casual gesture for a seat.
When he finally sat down across from Phil, it was with the air of a man who had suffered a long day by 10am. They stared at each other for a few long minutes and then the President took a deep breath. “I wanna go to Mars.”
Phil blinked and blurted out. “Cool, me too.” The words finished before he could even realize how flustered this whole thing had him.
The President laughed and leaned back into his sofa. “Sadly, that won’t happen in my presidency, maybe not even in my lifetime. But I can sure as hell give it a good leg up.” He paused and his smile wilted a little and in that moment Phil could see the melancholy man that wished he could do more, but couln’t.
“The moon is closer.” The President said, his voice subtly lower, closer to the ground. “Despite the huge differences in environment, my big fancy scientists at NASA tell me that a large chunk of the skills and tech required for that sort of thing could be tested on the moon. For a lot less cost and in a lot less time.”
Phil nodded. The near instant communication, for one, would be a big help in testing all sorts of equipment. And it’d be a short, relatively economical thing to send up more supplies. Gravity was on their side more reliably and more regularly than for any other destination and— Phil’s brain ground to a halt. “You don’t want me to land on the moon.” he said slowly. “You want me to live there.”
“I want you to run it. I want you to be mission control mark II.” The president handed him a leather portfolio, thick with papers. “I want you to be the first person to step foot in 25 years, but I also want you to be one of the first colonists. And now I know the way things happen, you might not be the absolute first to step back on the moon, but you would be the first official colonist.”
Phil stared at him. To his credit, The President didn’t flinch. That was rare, even for world leaders. The gears in Phil’s head slowly started working again, viciously clamping down on the absolute glee and unbearable feelings of honor to look for what hadn’t been said yet. “You’ve read my file,” Phil eventually said.
The President nodded, giving Phil a long, serious, impressed look. “The full one. Haven’t had to sign a classification form like that since I took office.”
Phil took a deep breath. Then another. “I won’t be your space spy.” He braced for impact. That sort of demand could scuttle a job offer.
“But you would know what to look for. In terms of espionage and sabotage.”
Phil nodded and licked his suddenly dry lips. Even an international effort would have all sorts of groups unhappy about it. American and abroad. And suddenly a lot of the offer came into focus. Phil quite literally had the perfect bio. A history (and post doc degree) with the field, a story the public (at least parts of it) loved and the kind of training and experience (as a SHIELD agent) that made absolutely nothing surprising.
He wanted to say yes, he’d wanted to say yes since the beginning. He’d wanted to say yes from the moment he understood that outer space was a place human beings could go. But something kept nagging at him. “What about the gay thing?”
“Being gay makes you a bad at science?”
They stared at each other for a long moment and then both broke into laughter. “You should get the Surgeon General on that.” Phil rumbled out between rolling laughs.
“I’ll have them issue a public health warning first thing tomorrow.”