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RELATIVISTIC PHENOMENA


Kate Pavelle






MUGEN

PRESS







Published by

MUGEN PRESS

Pittsburgh, PA 15209, USA

www.mugenpress.com


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and places are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is purely coincidental.


Previously published under the pen name of Kate Pavelle.


Relativistic Phenomena

Copyright © Olivette Devaux


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any for or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Mugen Press.



Printed in the United States of America

First Edition

February 2014






Slow down the speed of light

Prolong the fleeting moment

Brush of lips, squeeze of hand

Slow down and hold me tight






CHAPTER 1


Ever since his evacuation from the Florida Keys, Anthony experienced the sort of upended weightlessness about him he knew from being under the ocean in his wetsuit, bubbles slowly rising from his mask.

He was tuning out the Miami airport well. The crowded corridors, gate seating all occupied with travelers escaping Hurricane Casey, the cacophony of their panicked conversations. He shut them out as he waited for his flight to New York. Sheets of rain driving against the flat glass window next to him provided just enough white noise to block out the writhing mass of humanity while he focused on his laptop screen. His vacation had been a brief interlude amidst interviews for a post-doc position.

Anthony William Sforza had just turned twenty-five, had finished his doctorate in physics, and the generosity of his sister Francesca allowed him to go on a tropical vacation before his most important, most promising presentation yet. That was the only reason why he had lugged the damn, antiquated laptop with him. He had been rereading Dr. Ikeda’s papers, studying the elegant mathematical expressions in the formulae the doctor had derived with such effortless ease.

He was slated to meet the mysterious and highly selective Dr. Ikeda right after his vacation – a vacation cut one day short by a hurricane.


Squeals and exclamations of dismay made him look up. The lights were out. The televisions… their screens were blank, too. The airport public announcement system crackled and came to life:

“We have lost electrical power due to the storm overhead. The airport will run on emergency generators. Please remain calm. Emergency crews are working on restoring power at this time.”

Anthony looked around. A few dim lights lit the corridors in the distance, supplementing the red glow of the “EXIT” signs. The vending machines with drinks were dark. Filled with a sudden premonition, he shut down his laptop and slid it into his backpack. In a storm like this, power could be out for a long time. He sauntered away from his gate and into the corridors, looking for food and drink.

As expected, some of the vendors were still open and were happy to accept his cash payment. Anthony scavenged only for the basics: three apples, four overpriced granola bars, a package of beef jerky, two bottles of pineapple juice, four bottles of water and a packet of gum. Then he walked all the way to a duty-free shop and purchased a small bottle of rum and a large bar of dark chocolate. His provisions having been taken care of, he used the restroom and hurried back to his gate.


When he returned, he was dismayed to find that spot in the corner had been taken by some punk kid in his brief absence. He scowled. The boy had straight brown hair with tips dyed luminous orange and several silver hoops that glistened in his right ear. He wore ripped jeans, and a shark-tooth necklace peeked from under his worn, purple tee. His eyes were closed and he had ear buds in his ears, appearing dead to the world.

The seats were full and the floor was crowded with stranded travelers. Only a small space was free against the wall next to the kid. Anthony picked his way over other people’s feet and carry-on luggage, determined to shoehorn himself in.

“Sorry,” he said as he touched the wild-haired punk. The kid nodded to him, lost in his musical world, and Anthony wished his phone still had some charge. As things stood, the best he could do was close his eyes and pretend he was underwater again. Buoyant and free, he imagined the brightly colored reef fish dart past him in the soothing, dim light of the ocean.


He tried to nap, but even that proved impossible. The floor was hard and his sunburned shoulders rubbed against the wall behind him. Anthony stirred the smallest bit and cracked his eyes open as the public announcement system came on.

“Flight 615 to New York has been delayed. It has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning at the earliest. We can accommodate several more passengers at one of the airport hotels on a first-come, first-serve basis…”

The punk kid next to him groaned and raised himself to his feet. Anthony glanced up to see him tap on his player several times and pull his ear buds out. He watched him join a long queue of passengers. He had not bothered to even try; experience had taught him that he was better off waiting the storm out at the terminal. The hotels would be overbooked, food would be scarce, and he would risk missing the first flight out once the airport opened again.


More than an hour later, the punk kid stalked back to what used to be Anthony’s corner, cursing under his breath.

“What, no luck?” Anthony asked.

“No. Everything’s booked,” he said. “Plus they take families with children first anyway.” He sighed and reached for the phone that was in his pocket. After pushing a button, he frowned. “And my phone’s almost dead. I have, like, thirty percent power left.”

Anthony nodded. “Mine died yesterday, on the islands. I’m Tony, by the way.”

The punk kid eyed him with some wariness. “Hi Tony. I’m Ken.”

“Nice to meet you.” Anthony gave the younger man a covert once-over.

“Tony the Tiger? Like on the American cereal?”

Anthony laughed. “It’s just a nickname,” he said, but it didn’t escape him that if Ken thought of a cereal as “American,” he was probably from elsewhere. He was curious, yet didn’t want to pry as he moved over so that Ken could squeeze between him and the wall. “This better not last too long. I have to be in New York two days from now.”


“Me too,” said Kenichi, settling down next to his neighbor. He slid his eyes toward Tony under half-closed lids. His neighbor was… interesting. His brown hair would be in need of a haircut back home. The eyes under the wild, unruly bangs scintillated with multiple hues of blue. It was like glimpsing a brilliant galaxy, the stars swirling and the black holes pulling him closer and closer.

And he smelled good. Earlier, when Kenichi had pretended to be asleep, he flared his nostrils in an effort to catch more of the pleasant, warm musky scent. His neighbor “Tony” enticed him, aroused him. Kenichi wanted to find out more about him, but didn’t quite know how to go about it.

He had turned nineteen only a while ago.

It had been only a year since his scientific papers were published under his own name... Kenichi’s parents were extremely concerned about his privacy and his proper development. Their means and influence had made it easy to allow Kenichi to publish only under his Swiss mother’s maiden name. The mysterious and elusive ‘Corinna Honstetter’ had been a legend in the world of theoretical physics for the last ten years, and only a select few were aware of the author’s true identity.

Kenichi had published his first paper when he was nine years of age. The ‘Honstetter Theorem’ was now a well-known set of equations, promising to predict quantum-physics phenomena at Newtonian speeds. That is, at speeds much slower than the speed of light. Some colleagues had hailed Corinna Honstetter’s work as a pioneering breakthrough, the kind that might even lead to the long-sought Unified Theory.

Corinna Honstetter had become dormant of late, however. Her work seemed to have been continued by a young PhD by the name of Kenichi Ikeda. He finished high school at the age of ten. He graduated from college by the age of thirteen. He gained his doctorate at the age of eighteen, but these details were still surrounded by a shroud of anonymous mystery. When he was six years old, he was bilingual in Japanese and Mandarin. He mastered English by the end of his ninth year, and he learned French and German from his mother. The young Dr. Kenichi Ikeda, carefully protected by his parents, soaked up knowledge the way a sponge soaks up water. He also spoke fluent Arabic and Spanish and he played the shakuhachi flute with as much skill as he played chess. He adored his sisters and mother, frightened his father, and embarrassed his teachers.

He was a one-of-a-kind punk kid, currently feeling almost drunk on the heady air of sudden freedom. Even though his eighteenth birthday passed a whole year ago, it was only now that he was, finally, allowed to travel on his own. This newfound freedom resulted in a new set of piercings he got down on the islands, along with the exotic highlighs in his hair.

Kenichi Ikeda was eager to ditch the constant bodyguards and child-protection measures in favor of the free, individualistic lifestyle he knew from American movies. His sexual orientation was no secret to his family, but he had always lacked the privacy to explore what it meant and what it felt like. Now he sat on the floor, far away from the safety net with which he grew up, stranded due to a hurricane. Try as he might, he couldn’t but notice that the gorgeous guy next to him smelled good enough to eat.


All these new experiences were just a lull before the storm. Kenichi escaped from the controlled environment of the family-approved Club Med Caribbean vacation and explored the islands on his own. He saw much, drank tropical drinks, and almost choked on his first-ever cigarette. He enjoyed random conversations with people he would have never met otherwise, and even managed to fit in some family-approved water-skiing.

The vacation was over now, though, and he felt a tendril of anxiety that came with the risk of being late for the Theoretical Physics Conference at the venerable Columbia University in New York. His team of collaborators and their aides was already assembled, yet his personal assistant had suffered a severe injury while skiing on an Alpine glacier. She would be fine – eventually – but now Kenichi needed a new person who could take his abstract thoughts and turn them into physical reality. The team leader wanted to pick the runner-up candidate for this particular position, yet Kenichi clashed with this candidate on personality from the get-go, and used all his persuasion and tact to convince the team leader that it would be more constructive to pick someone entirely different.

This is why he had to make it to the conference on time: he wanted to see the presentation of the new PhD’s who were vying for post-doc positions. He hoped to find someone, anyone, whose mind was keen enough to grasp his thoughts and whose hands were skilled enough to produce experimental apparatus.

His stomach twisted at the thought of supervising team members older than himself. Kenichi had always had to interact with older fellow students, but this would be different. Because of the way his mother and father protected him from fame and the public eye, Kenichi had, in fact, very little interaction with his much-older colleagues. All mail had been addressed to Corinna Honstetter, and when Kenichi had responded to emails and letters in various journals and magazines, he had pretended to be an older woman with a wise, yet somewhat dour disposition.

It had taken him some time to find his own writer’s voice when he started writing his first paper under his own name. He submitted it on his eighteenth birthday. He had been “Corinna Honstetter” for so long; it was still difficult to figure out who Kenichi Ikeda really was, what he sounded like, and what he wanted out of life - with the possible exception of unhindered access to top-notch physics facilities. He had accepted an offer from Columbia not only because of their Columbia Dense Matter Centers and their access to high-speed particle accelerators in Europe.

No, Kenichi’s primary interest was exploring New York City. On his own and far away from home, he vibrated with youthful anticipation of adventures to come.


Presently, however, Kenichi felt the tendrils of fear tease his consciousness. Like a musician who felt the Carnegie Hall was a natural venue for his skill, he felt the magnetic draw of New York. He was ready to assume the position for which he was bred and raised. What were the odds that his first independent foray into the real world would be turned upside down by the vagaries of tropical storm systems? Feeling out of control didn’t come naturally to the young Dr. Kenichi Ikeda. The very concept of adventure had grown bitter and ill-advised overnight, and for the first time in his life he felt entirely alone

Fretting would do him little good. Instead, he catalogued the forms of entertainment available to him. After some thought, he unzipped his backpack and dug out a small plastic box. Its surface was covered with black and white squares.

Kenichi opened it along a row of fine hinges and straightened it into one solid surface, revealing a travel chess set. He poured the small, black and white figures into the palm of his hand. Every chess piece had a little plastic peg on the bottom, and every square had a little hole in the middle. The task of placing each chess piece in its place was routine, its familiarity allowing him to enter his tranquil space.


Anthony was stirred by a movement next to him.

Ahh. The kid was back.

His eyes opened halfway to peek at his punk neighbor. Not a kid, really. The guy next to him might have been a college student. When Anthony was his age, he was already enlisted and responsible for his squad. This fellow, with his wild hair and shiny earrings, didn’t look like someone with much discipline. Antony wondered if Ken was one of those college students who had it made, and whose parents made generous donations to his school just to keep their undisciplined son from dropping out.

Judging from the way he looked right now, he was probably a real momma’s boy. It was likely he was away from home for the first time. His face looked ashen and his eyes were wide with alarm, and his shoulders were up to his ears with tension and stored-up nervous energy. His fellow traveler looked rather displeased with his overall situation, presumably because there was no posh hotel room waiting for him. Anthony suppressed a smirk, and decided to play nice.

“Hey Ken… everything okay?”

The younger man failed to meet his eyes. “Uh… yeah.” His voice felt a bit uncertain, reminding Anthony of a young buck trying to cross the road during rush hour. Not many enjoyed being weathered in like that, at the mercy of the elements and the powers-that-be. Anthony’s eyes drifted down to the game that was taking shape under the younger man’s fingertips.

Chess?

A small smile began to bloom on his face, making him realize how tight his own jaw had become. Now he could relax over a favorite pastime, although he’d have pegged the kid for video games instead. Anything would serve to get his mind off his upcoming presentation.

“Hey, Ken… you play?”

Warm, brown eyes lifted from under the mop of unruly hair.

“A little,” Kenichi admitted. “You?”

“A little,” Anthony nodded, suppressing a smile.

“Okay. Here, you be white, then.”

Anthony’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t need the advantage.”

“But you’re my guest. I’m just trying to be polite.” Anthony noted that the punk kid’s speech was without a discernible accent. He had never heard anyone speak like that before, and filed the interesting tidbit away for future reference.

“All right. But don’t cry when I beat you.” Anthony reached into his backpack and removed a bottle of pineapple juice. He opened it, drank some, and topped off the bottle with rum. His eyebrow cocked in Ken’s direction. “Would you like some?”

The punk kid nodded, wide eyes betraying the feigned nonchalance. Anthony handed him the second juice bottle. “Drink some, then top it off until it tastes right. Normally I’d add ice and a slice of lemon, but we’ll just have to improvise.”

“Thanks.” Anthony watched Ken fix his drink and lick his lips before he set the bottle on the ground.

“All right,” Anthony said. “Let’s play chess.”



CHAPTER 2


Kenichi bristled internally, but took care to suppress the scowl that threatened to show in face of the other man’s hubris. “Unlikely,” he said, as he watched Anthony advance King’s Pawn two spaces ahead.

The opening unfolded into a fairly standard Sicilian variation. They didn’t rush. Kenichi noted the deliberate care with which Tony picked up the figures and placed the peg in the little hole of his newly selected square. His fingers were long and sinewy and their rough parts spoke of work done with the hands. The few little scars on Tony’s left hand betrayed right-handedness and the frequent use of tools.

The man’s game wasn’t bad – Kenichi was pleasantly surprised, and wondered what Tony did for a living. He looked a little older than himself, and there had been tension in his face before he joined in Kenichi’s game of chess. Kenichi thought of jobs where one had to use tools.

A plumber, maybe.

Or an electrician.

Not an auto mechanic, though, because the other man’s hands lacked the dirt that would have been ground into the skin. Tony’s fingers led to generous palms, to strong wrists and sinewy forearms that disappeared into the rolled-up sleeves of his tropical-print shirt. His skin was tan with a hint of pink. The man had obviously spent too much time in the sun.

“Your move, Kenny.”

Caught staring at the other man’s well-developed forearm, Kenichi startled and coughed a bit in order to regain his composure. Even so, he had to fight hard to keep the telltale blush off his cheeks. He peered at the chessboard and was dismayed to see that his companion had fallen victim to a careless error.

Careless, or maybe he wasn’t nearly as good as Kenichi had hoped.

“Mate in five.”

The older man crinkled his blue eyes as he scanned the chessboard. Dismay was written all over his face “I don’t see it.”

“Here,” Kenichi said, moving the pieces. “The next move opens your queen to my knight. We trade, you take my knight, which opens this file – which I clear with my pawn en passant. My bishop and my queen seal the deal.” Victorious and breathless, Kenichi looked up.

He didn’t expect the small smile tugging on Tony’s lips. Those lips looked… soft. Pliant. His eyes skittered higher, away from the dangerous softness and up the strict line of Tony’s aquiline nose, until he finally met his playmate’s eyes. Kenichi didn’t expect to drown in those eyes – in perfect pools of aquamarine, almost luminescent, with shards of indigo highlighted by gray. He sat still, feeling entranced and entirely absorbed.


Anthony’s eyes feasted on the punk kid’s broken nails – a sure evidence of his fun in the sun. Probably at some beach, if the faint, caramel tan of his arms was any indication. A covert glance or two revealed a dusting of freckles over Ken’s nose and his high cheekbones. Had it not been for those soft, milk-chocolate eyes and brown hair tipped in wild orange, Anthony would have said the punk kid looked Asian.

Once again he tried to assess his age, and if the tension in his shoulders was any indication, he was not terribly comfortable with his current travel situation. Very cute, though - too bad he traveled in different circles from him. Anthony knew that his demanding academic life would not allow him to pursue a relationship, even in the unlikely case that they were geographically compatible.

The GI Bill allowed for 36 months of higher education, and Anthony worked his ass off to get as far as he could in that amount of time. He was on constant academic overload and managed to cover all of college and at least part of his grad school during those exhausting years. And thank heavens for summer courses and a flexible curriculum available to armed forces veterans. Nobody was going to put up with a romantic partner who spent all his waking hours in the lab or in the classroom – especially not if he still had a year of inactive duty left to serve.


Anthony returned his attention to the next chess game. His trap was set now, and all he had to do was spring it. He was thrilled to see Ken take the bait.

Anthony lost.

He made sure to look at least a bit mournful, which was quite difficult, by the way, with the way the punk kid kept watching his hands, his lips. Now he seemed to be hopelessly glued to his eyes. Not that Anthony minded. The punk kid’s eyes were full of warmth and wonder, and… perhaps a bit of lust.

“I bet I can beat you next time,” Anthony said, breaking a silence that stretched like sweet taffy. “Betcha ten bucks I can win the next game.”

Kenichi shook himself and hoped the other man didn’t catch him staring. “Okay,” he drawled, “as long as you’re black. Since you lost anyway.” They both put a ten-dollar bill on the rough airport carpet next to the chessboard.

After some thought, Kenichi chose not to play the King’s Indian opening. He moved the King’s pawn up two spaces and as he did so, he realized that his fingers were languid and relaxed. He was in his zone.

Not many moves later, Kenichi felt his brows draw together when his handsome opponent responded with the Benko Defense. Kenichi hated its nonstandard, asymmetrical feeling. He eyes glanced up, taking in the deadpan expression in Anthony’s face, and he just about heard the penny drop.

I’m being hustled.

Tony had lost the first game on purpose, goading Kenichi into an easy bet. Despite his dislike of having to work hard against the Benko Defense, Kenichi grinned. Hustling chess was usually his job, and now the shoe was on the other foot. Forgetting the undeniable personal magnetism of the man on the opposite side of his diminutive chessboard, he focused on the game.


Four hours and five games later, Anthony had twenty-five dollars in his hand. They both needed to stretch. “I’d buy you dinner with my winnings, but I don’t know what’s open.”

Ken flashed him an excited grin. “There’s only one way to find out. Let’s go exploring!” He scrambled to his feet, towering over the still-seated Anthony.

“Here!” Anthony saw a tan hand extend down toward him and he grasped it, letting the punk kid yank him up. He scrambled to his feet as his stomach flipped at the warm touch. He didn’t want to let go.

“Come on!” Ken said in a low voice that spelled both urgency and excitement, and Anthony found that he didn’t need to let go, because he was being dragged out of the crowded gate space and down the dim hallway.

“There’s a food court up that way,” Ken said, not slowing down. “I’m hungry. I didn’t get to eat breakfast and it’s almost dinner.” Anthony tagged along behind him, not catching up. If he caught up with the punk kid, Ken would have no more reason to drag him along, and Anthony would have to defer to general manners. He would have to let go of his hand.


Kenichi kept pulling the taller, broader man along. His hand wasn’t shaken off, which was a fair sign. Tony’s warm, pleasant hand almost engulfed his. Long fingers wrapped around his smaller palm, reciprocating his touch. Even if it were that little bit of rum speaking, he thrilled to the warmth of it. The nerve endings of his skin, the ones that touched Tony’s bigger and coarser hand, were aflame with pleasure.

He slowed down a bit to test his situation, and was thrilled that his chess opponent still didn’t let go. They followed the light at the end of the corridor in search of the faint smell of airport food.


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