It was a cold, crisp day, and the visiting lecturer was walking haltingly across the history campus. “Lyceum Arion needs a class on ways to keep yourself from going absolutely insane with boredom on stake-outs.” Theis muttered quietly into his scarf as he paused to study a sculpture and then looked around as if he were thoroughly lost.
“Most of their recommendations would be to get plenty of exercise,” Everett Sparks’ voice replied over the comm earbud Theis wore. “You know… walk around or something.” He sounded far too amused at Theis’ plight.
Theis rubbed his gloved hands together before shoving them deep in his coat pockets. He heard running behind him, rapidly approaching, and turned just in time to collide with a young man. The impact caused Theis to take a step back while the young man went sprawling.
“I’m so sorry sir!” the student gasped as he started to get up.
“Are you all right?” Theis offered his hand to help the young man up.
“Yes, sir. Just knocked the wind from me. It’s my own fault.”
“Perhaps you can help me out.” Theis smiled. “I’ve gotten myself a bit turned around and don’t know how to find my way back to the Visiting Faculty residence.”
“C’mon, Foley! Lecture starts in 10 minutes!” one of the young man’s friends called to him, urging him to hurry.
“Oh… uh… sorry, I really don’t know.” The young man gestured vaguely to the west. “I think over that way. Sorry.” He gave an apologetic shrug before running off to join his friends.
“I need to remember to put in for hazard pay when I get home,” Theis muttered as he rubbed the shoulder that took the brunt of the impact.
“Dealing with students all day, you really deserve it.” Evy’s voice chirped behind him. “Are you all right?”
“By the way, you have company,” Rett barely contained his laughter.
“Miss Evy,” Theis smiled broadly as he turned to her. “A delight to see you again.”
She returned his smile with one just as wide. “Wonderful to see you again too, Professor Theis! You look a bit lost. Anything you need?”
Theis flashed a chagrinned smile. “Now that you mention it, I did seem to get a bit turned around while returning to my apartment. I don’t suppose you could…” A loud grumble sounded from the girl, interrupting Theis’ request. She blushed deeply while his eyebrows shot up in surprise. “My goodness, was that you?” He asked. “I didn’t think a sound that big could come from such a little girl!” He laughed.
Evy joined in good-naturedly. “I’m sorry, sir. I forgot to grab lunch today.”
Theis looked at her in concern. “Then you must be starving. I’ll tell you what: it’s nearly dinner time and I really don’t want to have to eat my own cooking tonight. If you can recommend a good place to eat and then direct me from there back to my apartment, I’ll treat for dinner.”
Evy’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, sir – you don’t have to do that! I can recommend all sorts of places and give you directions without payment.”
“First, call me Theis.” He smiled. “I never got used to being called sir. It just doesn’t fit right if you know what I mean. Second, I’m positive that I will enjoy myself far more talking with you over dinner than I would reading my notes for the tenth time today. You would be doing me a kindness.”
“Well, if that’s the case, how do you feel about noodles?” Evy’s eyes sparkled with happiness.
“Ooh, smooth!” Rett commended him over the comms as Theis offered his arm to the young lady and they set off across the square.
“So how did you get into Ancient Warfare?” Evy asked over a large bowl of ginger noodles. They were seated across from one another at a window table in one of the Academy’s most popular noodle shops. Though Evy had looked for a table a bit more out-of-the-way, the window seat was the only one open and the place was quickly filling up.
Theis took a sip of his hot tea before answering. “My mother writes historical fiction, so I grew up hearing all sorts of tidbits – everything from Ancient Earth to travel aboard the Thelian Dawn to stories about first settling Thelios. She’d tell me all the stuff that really happened that she was using as the basis for her stories. I suppose the warfare part comes from my father. He was a guardian so there was always a strong sense of doing the right thing and protecting others.” He smirked. “It didn’t take long in my studies before I realized how little of warfare was about honor and protecting the weak. But even if my romantic notions were dashed, it didn’t change my affinity for the subject.”
Not wanting to risk scaring her off, Theis was content to let her lead the conversation and answer her questions. She rarely spoke of herself or her interests, and what little she said was obviously intended to make her seem like a first year student.
“So your first…” Evy stumbled over her words and seemed nervous. “Sorry… your first lecture is tomorrow?” She turned her face away from the window, seeming to study something over the counter across the room.
A surreptitious glance out the window revealed the source of her discomfort – a campus security guard patrolling Eatery Square was paused on the other side of the window.
“Don’t let her get too spooked – it may take us months to get another chance like this if she bolts.” Rett instructed him. “I’m reporting an Evy sighting across campus to draw the guard off.”
“Yes,” Theis answered her question. “I was just at the lecture hall making sure everything was prepared before you found me wandering around lost. Would you like a preview?” He reached for his tablet but it slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor under the table.
“Oh! Allow me!” Evelyn quickly ducked down to retrieve the fallen tablet. Outside the window, the security guard responded to a call over the campus security comms and quickly dashed off across the square. He was gone by the time she sat back up. Though the girl was visibly relieved, she gave Theis a shrewd look. “You dropped it on purpose.”
“You seemed less than eager for him to notice you.” Theis spread his hands innocently.
“How did you know he’d get a call?”
“I didn’t” Theis lied. “I just figured he’d be moving on soon enough. If he hadn’t then I likely would have directed your attention to the dessert menu.” He nodded towards the display that would have ensured Evy kept her face turned away from the window while she read it.”
“Why?” She asked. There was a touch of wariness in her voice but more so there was a happiness in her eyes that Theis couldn’t quite place.
Theis gave her a bright smile. “Because at the heart of it all, Miss Evy, I am a selfish man. I find you delightful company and I’ve no wish for this meal to end prematurely. Plus I doubt I’d find my way home from here without you.”
“Fair enough, Professor Theis,” Evy laughed. “Fair enough.”