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Interstellar Penetration

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Rodney goes to New York City to meet up with some bigwigs in the UN about world efforts to slow down global warming, or some such liberal PC agenda. Rodney's fairly leftist, agrees that perhaps it'd be a good thing if, y'know, the Earth could still support human life in a millennium or two, but he's an astrophysicist - what the fuck does he know about the ozone? Quite a lot, as it turns out, and he spends the first week of conference in a succession of well-lit basements working out algorithms so as to tell the UN bigwigs that, yes, things really need to be done, yes, now.

He gets mugged, like an idiot, in Times Square. He'd been careful enough, set up a decoy wallet, not taken anything important with him, but it's still a pain, losing most of his cash and several of his credit cards to a tall, gangly man with a scruffy beard and a backwards-facing cap. He chases the guy for a bit, trying to swear and run at the same time, but really it's not worth it - he can get the credit cards cancelled from his motel room, and the guy is long-gone anyway.

The trip back to the hotel is long and depressing, Rodney having failed to pull out more than thirty-five cents in change from his jeans' pocket and therefore needing to walk all twelve blocks. He's careful not to stare up at the buildings like a tourist - once bitten, twice shy - but, really, architecture has always entranced him a little, all solid lines and precision. So he concentrates instead on not bumping into anyone, on not stepping on any gum, on getting back to the hotel with the rest of his dignity intact. It's a Sunday in spring, and there are pigeons and hot dog vendors on every corner, people spilling in and out of doorways everywhere he looks.

Back up to the hotel and into his room, he's flicking through some asshat's crackpot wormhole theory in an astrophysics journey while on hold with Visa before he realises it, and he briefly wishes he'd called for room service and gotten something to eat first. But he doesn't have to wait on hold for very long, and the customer services rep is pleasant and helpful and even efficient. The rest of the evening passes in a blur of calculations and bad television; he jerks off to soft porn, some blonde woman screaming, "Take me, big boy!" as her silicone breasts bounce on-screen, before falling asleep still fully dressed and drooling on his pillow.

Monday morning he's back at the UN, dying in increments while some rep from the White House claims that the current rates of pollution in Texas aren't harming the environment at all, and, anyway, what's more important, jobs or trees? Trees, he feels like screaming, trees, you moron! but doesn't, because they're all about the diplomacy at the UN. He gets on well with the conference chair anyway, Dr. Weir; for a woman who knows nothing about the science she deals very well with scientists.

Work continues like that for a while, what was supposed to be a two-week conference turning into a long-term project with offices in nine countries and a Review Board of its own. It's still not his area of expertise, barely his area of interest, but it's better than spending the rest of his days under a mountain in Colorado, stuck watching prettier, dumber people go through to other worlds while he tries desperately to stop them doing anything stupid. He's got funding, at least, a lot of it, and a staff who mostly don't piss him off too much; and it feels like he's doing something important, something that's actually going to make the world a better place - as long as the UN can get nations to agree to the protocol he's recommending.

Six months down the track his role in the project is over, and he’s fielding several offers to lecture. He ends up staying in New York, since his apartment is comfortable and he doesn’t want to move his cat, lecturing during the day and playing jazz piano in a seedy bar off Broadway on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Before he knows it, he has tenure and three doctoral students, a standing dinner arrangement with Elizabeth Weir on the third Sunday of each month, and a membership to the local Mensa chapter and a local gym.

Lecturing is mostly routine; less than half a dozen of his undergraduates show any promise at all, and at least one of the doctoral candidates is going to fail her orals. His TA is perfectly serviceable, if a bit of a ditz, and he gets on fairly well with most of his colleagues, something he learnt somehow at the UN; God knew he hadn’t had an ounce of tact when working in Colorado. The jazz piano’s more of a surprise, something he’d fallen into accidentally. He’s not that good, but it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or two and the tips go a long way towards funding his relationship with the good people at Sun Tsu’s Chinese Restaurant.

He starts going to the gym more regularly when he notices that his feet are slowly disappearing from his line of sight when he looks down. It’s not very bad yet - he can still see most of his toes – but it sparks in him a vague midlife crisis, complete with harried flirtations with five shop assistants and the university porter, trips to Long Island to view red sports cars, and many inspections of his hairline – in mirrors, shop windows, and once – and it wasn’t very fair of Elizabeth to laugh so much – in the soup spoon at an Italian restaurant.

The gym instructor’s name is John. Rodney doesn’t go to any actual classes, since learning to step in time to some song that wasn’t cool even in 1992 is very clearly beneath him, but John’s there every Saturday morning when Rodney is, checking that he’s doing okay and making sure that the body builders don’t injure themselves with their own weights. John’s the skinny type, muscular in a wiry way and practically assless; Rodney disapproves of that, in the sense that people who’ve never been fat a day in their lives shouldn’t be telling people who are how to lose it, but John seems to know what he’s doing, knows how to get his little gym buddies going with a smile and hearty encouragement and…

… Rodney gets the shock of his life when John turns up at the Mensa chapter one week, dressed in beige trousers and a ratty pullover with honest-to-God leather patches on the elbows, chatting merrily away with the chapter president and completely failing to recognise Rodney standing in the doorway with his mouth wide open. Rodney eventually finds himself at his regular table, deep in a conversation about eugenics, hyperspace, and the possibility that Kirk wasn’t an intergalactic slut, and then John’s sitting next to him, saying rather firmly that Kirk was always loyal to Spock, even if he did sleep round a bit, and what was with the Orion slave girls anyway?

John, it turns out, is not a gym instructor at all, but an ex-Air Force officer discharged under circumstances he’d very clearly rather not talk about at all, who now owns three gymnasiums in New York City where he profits from the sweat of others and spends his spare time flying his Cessna to Maine and back. Rodney’s not clear how an ex-pilot became the proud owner of a gym or what this has to do with John’s membership to Mensa, but it soon becomes unimportant as John’s suddenly talking about Rodney’s aim to shift those last fifteen-or-so pounds before Christmas and Rodney’s left torn between sucking his stomach in and glaring at John in indignation. He settles on a combination.

The meeting breaks up at ten pm precisely, as it’s a Wednesday night and people have work in the morning. But John and Rodney are by then deep in a conversation about the mating patterns of king penguins and the mathematics of warp physics, so that when John says, “Want to go grab a beer?” as they get outside the building it doesn’t take Rodney very long to decide.

“As long as it's not a Romulan ale. I realised in high school that to get that particular shade of blue, there has to be a citric acid reaction in there somewhere, and I’m deeply allergic to it, and…” Rodney says, while John has this bemused look on his face and is slowly backing Rodney step by step against a wall. Rodney’s talking about anaphylactic shock when John kisses him, is halfway through a list of his most deadly allergies when John presses full against him and licks his upper lip. But although Rodney loves to hear himself speak, will tell anyone who asks that he’s a genius, he likes sex more, likes all of it from the way John is slowly deepening the kiss to the way he’ll suck John off later. “And hey!” Rodney says when the kiss ends. “Whatever gave you the impression that I’m that sort of guy?” he asks, sort of irritated but mostly pleased and a little out of breath.

“I don’t know,” John drawls against his cheek. “Maybe that you’ve been checking out my ass for the last five months?” And, yeah, he has a point, Rodney concedes, and kisses him again.

They end up staggering down to a sports bar filled with men in football jerseys and the stink of cheap beer; Rodney sits down to munch on pretzels and try not to stare at John too much, who has an evil smirk on his face and is stroking his beer bottle something phallic. After one drink they’re off, and Rodney obediently follows John - like a dog in heat, he thinks acidly in one of his more coherent moments – to his apartment, where they’re on each other like blue on an Andorian the moment John shuts the door.

Rodney’s fingers always get oddly clumsy when he’s aroused. When he was seventeen (a very good year; he’d started at Caltech and lost his virginity), he’d tried it on with a sorority girl called Alice – blonde, tall, majoring in Chemistry – and when he’d gone to take off her bra, he’d accidentally snapped the elastic so hard that his earlobe is still scarred from where she bit him. So he’s trained himself to let his partners take the lead; it’s not that he’s submissive, but sex goes better for him when he’s not doing any of the clothes removal.

John gets with this program very quickly, flicking open the buttons on Rodney’s shirt and peeling off his own sweater. He’s wearing just a tee-shirt underneath, black with an arrow pointing up and the logo “I’m with genius.” Rodney smiles, as lop-sided as always, and leans in to kiss him again, long and slow and lazy.

It picks up, though, a little tongue here, a little nibble there, until Rodney has his hand down John’s boxers and is trying to kick off his shoes and stay upright. John’s cock is warm in his hand, heavy and thick, and Rodney can’t help but tug down John’s boxers with his other hand and fall to his knees to lick at the head, all purple and happy to see him. He ends up with his legs spread wide as he kneels, rutting against John’s ankle, with one hand on John’s hip to hold him closer and the other on the floor to steady himself. One of John’s hands is in Rodney’s hair, pulling a little, and Rodney can’t think to question the whereabouts of the other; John, above him, is making little groaning sounds as Rodney chases the vein around John’s cock with his tongue and sucks on the tip. He can’t deep throat, never learned how, but John doesn’t seem to be complaining, is moaning louder and louder, is in fact pushing Rodney off to come over his chin and chest, slumping to the floor and mumbling something about not being safe.

It turns out that John’s other hand was splayed flat against the wall, pressed so hard that his knuckles are white and the muscles in his arm are taut. As John slumps the arm slides down slowly, and Rodney is transfixed by it, transfixed by the strength in those fingers and the trail of sweat slowly being dragged down the wall. John takes a minute to recover while Rodney whimpers a little and rubs his cock against John’s leg, but then tugs him up and walks him slowly, kissing wetly the whole while, backwards into a bedroom and onto his bed.

Rodney ends up with one hand tangled in John’s chest hair and the other trying to reach his desperate cock while John laughs at him and says, “Resistance is useless!”

And it’s enough to jerk Rodney out of his sex haze and say distractedly, “Oh, god, don’t tell me there’s a life-size Dalek replica in your closet,” so that John bites on his collarbone and finally, finally puts his hand on Rodney’s cock, firmly stroking as he kisses his way up Rodney’s neck and jaw line.

“Fine, resistance is futile!” he says, just as he licks Rodney’s lip, and that’s it, Rodney’s coming in a frantic jerk of his hips and groaning into John’s mouth.

The next he knows, he’s waking up under a heavy blanket and slightly suffocated by the weight and heat of John snoring next to him. The sun is just starting to glow through the white blinds, and Rodney realises that he’s had a one-night-stand with his gym instructor. Then an alarm goes off, and some radio announcer is talking in a deep voice about the weather and the Yankees and Johnny Cash as John jerks awake and almost topples Rodney off the bed. “Nice going,” Rodney jeers, never at his best before coffee, and even that doesn’t make John, sexy, sleep-ruffled and certainly capable of doing better, do anything more than smile at him, blearily cheerful.

John ends up going to get breakfast from the deli next to his building while Rodney hunts round the apartment for his underwear and socks; by the time John comes back with fresh coffee and a loaf of bread, Rodney’s still half naked but seated at the table, yawning into a copy of Scientific America and trying to do yesterday’s crossword in the New York Times. John cuts the bread into thick slices and puts it in front of Rodney with the air of a man expecting praise; Rodney grins up at him and starts talking about the article he’s just read, the topic of which is the penetration of the heliopause boundary between the solar wind and the interstellar medium, and measurements of the interstellar fields. John grins back, leers a little, and says, “Well, that’s a topic which has aroused my interest.”

the end