Title: Second Star To the Right (1/2)
Characters: America, England, real people whose personalities I made up.
Prompt: America takes England on a NASA mission
Notes :Made-up personalities of real people, who, I am sure, are actually very admirable specimen of mankind. Also split into two parts because I can't find a graceful way to change the scene.
Summary: A last-ditched effort at getting an actual space budget sees England and America flying on the space shuttle.
It was a dark and stormy day. Typical Wiltshire weather for the season, the men supposed, but it did nothing to brighten up the glooms palpably hanging around the conference room like a fog. Twelve of them were seated around the table, business-suited and rather frayed around the edges, their faces reflecting the weather rather perfectly.
"I assume you have all seen our budget report, gentlemen," the man at head of the table started. His name tag identified him as 'Director General, BNSC'. "We've had the weekend to dwell upon the issue. Now it's time to discuss what we should do with this bloody situation."
The budget report, represented by a bright red arrow at the front of the room, showed a plummeting curve steep enough to break the gravitational constant. Most of the men looked at it and groaned, while some wiped beads of sweat off with a sleeve.
Only one of them remained relatively calm, a man whose name tag stated was the Director of Space Science. He raised up a hand.
"May I have a few words?"
The Director General raised an eyebrow. Space Science was, naturally, the hardest hit. The national investment in human space flight had always been rather dismal. "Of course, Parker. You have ideas?"
"It occurs to me that our problem is less one of science than one of publicity," Parker said. "And now, before you say 'no shit, Einstein', if you'll pardon the language, we have a plan for that. One of them would be to start with the schools and start brainwashing the kids into spacemen, but that wouldn't do. Not for a few generations, and we'd be lagging behind France by then. We are lagging behind France. No. We need drastic measures to get the public attention back from reality TV or whatever they do these days."
"My wife likes the reality shows," the Director General said without much conviction. "And short of finding another superpower to start an arms race with America, what do you propose we do just to get that? The media's eager to blast anything and everything these days, and the public couldn't care less if you're not Britney Spears."
Or Manchester United, somebody muttered, but they pretended he didn't.
Parker wagged a finger. It was, he announced, the plan to end all plans.
"This is war, gentlemen," he was reported to have said, "and I propose we attack this country right where it counts."
Mankind would eventually need laws for bothering people with stupidity, England decided, staring at his American counterpart with obvious irritation. He knew the boy was a git and had known it for some time, honestly, he wasn't in that much of a denial, but there had to be a limit to certain things. Like how much you can spend your national budget for personal pursuits, and how much you can drag otherwise busy people into whatever your bloody whims fancied.
"Come on, England, this isn't my idea. It's a request from your own space agency," America said, smiling winsomely in a way that occasionally made him want to kick his face in, or at least pull a few teeth out (not that he'd actually do it, but he certainly had had bouts of criminal intent). "They want you to do it and your boss wants me to tag along for company. You can even use one of your favorite phases! What is it, 'I'm not doing this for you, it's all for me, myself and I'? See? It's not that hard."
Ah. The BNSC. Bloody gits, too. And they wonder why they never get much funding.
"This is a waste of time," he said, trying to be as slow, deliberate---hell, menacing---as possible. "Waste of time and colossal waste of money. I don't know if you have secret stacks of gold to pay for these things---"
"The mission's scheduled with or without us anyway. Besides, the value of gold is----"
"----but I don't," England finished. "Look, America. We're in an economic crisis. Possibly the biggest one the world in general has seen in decades, you and I are both sick---" Indeed, America was wasting a significant amount of tissue papers on his nose. England's office tissue papers. "---your market is going haywire and my banks, for God's sake, have gone nuts. Then you barged into my office and chased away my entire staff because you said you have a brilliant idea, and it's 'let's go sightseeing in space'. Sorry, but I'm not going to pat your head and say 'well done, my boy, have a biscuit!'"
"It's a NASA mission, you know, not an industry rocket."
"I would've thrown you out already if it's the industry, you idiot. I do not relish the thought of going to Russia for the takeoff." He snorted. "The point is, there's no point to it. We don't belong in space, and we don't do whatever the astronauts do. They can't study our data, we can't do anything worthwhile, they can't even know who we bloody are. Let the original astronauts your agency planned for do the thing, and don't use the whole 'but your agency came up with it' excuse. All you have to do is to say 'no'."
And America should have said 'no'. England didn't have the money for it, and neither did he. America was down with a cold, too----and, and he should just let the science programs do what they do and focus on getting better, not this bucketload of nonsense.
America didn't reply. He stopped swinging his legs around from his position on England's desk, eyes turned to the linoleum. He looked thoughtful, even a little sad, and for a second the part of him that used to love a laughing, shining, blonde-haired boy twisted itself in his gut, just because America doesn't do that and something in him couldn't bear the thought of seeing him that way still. And there was something, another thing, that refused to bear this silence for reasons that he didn't want to think about.
"It's not that bad an idea."
America looked up, then, and England's breath caught, if only because his eyes had a glitter he hadn't seen in the past two hundred years. It was neither harsh nor soft, neither demanding nor indignant but a compromise between all four and in another history, another world, he might have admired and despised that look along with everything else America does. In this world, the way things had been, it merely had the power to deprive him of words.
"I've been wanting to go out there for some time, ever since we sent Armstrong to the moon," he said, following a long, exaggerated sigh. "It's been forty years since then. Do you think I wouldn't have gone a dozen times already, if I'm as much of a brat as you obviously think I am?"
He slid down from the desk and started to make for the door, not without anger but simmering with...disappointment? Resentment? The boy did not look down, did not look at England. His gaze was locked forward at something straight ahead, beyond the door. Beyond all the doors and hills and oceans.
And as he passed England, he gave him a little nod. "Sorry for fraying your nerves, old man. Forget I asked."
If England could only find his voice----but even if he did, he wasn't sure he'd know what to do with it anyway.
It was about five minutes after America left that he managed to sigh, with a mixture of guilt and exasperation, and returned to his desk. There wasn't anything new to this whole exchange, no. They had been like this for the past few decades----an idea from one side wouldn't go over so well with the other, they would have a yelling match, someone would leave. Sometimes it was like that in meetings, too, but they tried to keep it to a minimum, then, and there would be somebody else to complain about anyway.
Fuck that stupid America.
And it was about fifteen minutes after he'd set the day's documents before him and proceeded to get absolutely no work done that he noticed America's briefcase still resting at the foot of his desk. It was filled with NASA documents. Papers on flight trainings. The program schedule. Proposals. Some had notes scribbled in and others had 'top secret' stamped on them; there was even a little map of stars. Not all of the disgusting pile of paperwork required for this project, most certainly, but America seemed to have brought with him everything England might find even slightly interesting. And, true enough, it was a rather spare plan, a regular supply delivery to the International Space Station. The world would not miss much---or lose much---whether Arthur Kirkland and Alfred F. Jones went along as the invisible crew or not.
England stared at the documents for a moment. Fuck that stupid America indeed. If he's sick then he should focus on what's right in front of him, keep his feet on the ground, deal with the matter as it comes. He had no right to drag him into it. He had no right to do these things, arrange all these so enthusiastically while he's losing his grip on---and yes, England might be frank about it----while he's losing his grip on the legacy of his century. If space was the future, then bugger the future and keep the wolves at bay. If space was the glorious past, well, America had always said the past is all that England sees.
Something bitter pulled at the back of his throat and he didn't know whether to feel tired or angry. Possibly a mix of the two. The things that he sees. The things that he does. The things that he did. He wouldn't admit to bitterness, no, and he wouldn't admit to arrogance. Perhaps indignation might do. Good old fashion indignation. He could settle for indignation, then fury, and then he could, maybe.
England pushed the pile of loan documents and bank policies to one side and began to read.
...to be continued.
Possibly within the week. Barring further calls to arms.