The Galactic University
Jens Pakkala, former Galactic general and current top agent for The Oracle Group, was utterly and completely lost. He read the paper again, looked up at the buildings, down at the paper.
Good Lord. He had traveled through history more times than he could count. Had fought in three wars across two different galaxies. Had navigated the murky and occasionally deadly politics of military and civilian organizations.
And now he was being stymied by a damn college campus.
Really, what did those idiots in Recruitment do all day? It certainly wasn’t paperwork. They had given him a name and a room number. Not nearly enough information when one considered the damn-near planet-sized maze that was the Intergalactic University.
The shuttle had dropped him off at the Liberal Arts campus, which Jens had now been wandering for two hours. He would ask at the Information Desk, but he couldn’t find the Information Desk. And good luck flagging down a student—they moved too damn fast.
Oh. Oh, look there. Like a beacon in a storm, someone wearing a uniform.
Jens jogged over to the security guard and gave his best smile. The guard dropped his hand to the weapon strapped to his side. Jens stopped smiling.
“Hi. Sorry. I seem to be lost. I’m looking for—”
“Do I look like a map?” the guard asked irritably. “Try the Information Desk.”
“And where the bloody hell would that be?” Jens said, equally irritably.
The guard froze, blinked. Then a reluctant smile crossed his face. “Follow the main path. It’s about a block that way.” He pointed to the left. “There’s a blue line down the middle, follow it when it turns off, it will take you straight to Information.”
“Oh, thank God.”
The guard chuckled. “It is a bit of a nightmare. I’ve been here long enough that I guess I’ve stopped noticing.” He glanced at Jens’ own uniform, eyebrows rising at the sight of his Oracle Group patch. “TOG, huh? They tried to recruit me out of the Destran Navy, but I’d had enough of orders.”
Jens looked at the guard with new eyes. “Hmm. If you ever change your mind, the pay’s pretty damn good. And most of the units are more…relaxed…than your typical military. Of course, we still have the damnable bureaucratic red tape, but that’s what staff is for, eh?”
The guard chuckled. “I may just do that. I thought I wanted quiet, but…”
“Getting bored, are we?”
Jens laughed and dug out one of his cards. “You feel like making a change, give me a call. I like the look of you.”
The guard took the card and his jaw dropped. His posture stiffened, arm shifting in what Jens was pretty sure was an aborted salute. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Jens took pity on the man and tossed him a casual salute of his own. “Carry on, Marine.”
Destran Navy, tapped for recruitment? Couldn’t be anything else but Marine.
Jens predicted he’d be getting a call before long. The man had that stir-crazy look ex-military often got after a few months of civilian life. It was a rough change, particularly for the Special Forces types. Adrenaline junkies, all of them.
Even with the directions, it still took Jens another half hour to find the desk, get directions, and finally begin his mission in earnest. He caught a transport to the history building, then up the express elevator to the fifty-second floor. Another half hour of corridor wandering, and he at least was able to find the sign declaring Earth Medieval & Renaissance Department.
He crossed another glass-walled walkway and into yet another hallway. They all looked the same to him—dark, lots of doors, the walls plastered with posters that he didn’t understand. He always felt like an uneducated idiot in these places, despite his college degree and decades of specialized training.
Now that he was nearing his goal, Jens took a moment to catch his breath and go over his arguments again. The last words his supervising officer had said were, “Bring the good doctor back here or else.” As threats went, it was vague, but then General Brandt didn’t need to be more specific. The look on her face was enough to make most grown men piss in their shorts.
“Good pay, benefits, chance to travel,” Jens muttered. “Hell, Brandt, he’s a history geek. The first two don’t matter. And travel? Really? Is that what we’re calling it?”
Jens ran the words through his head again. Paused. Barked out a laugh. “The doctor. Hah. Didn’t know Brandt had it in her.” He pictured a skinny man in a trench coat, then shook his head. Brandt had probably never seen the old science fiction show. Or maybe she had. Her sense of humor could be a bit warped at times.
Jens’ current assignment was the recruitment of one Dr. Drake Stilson, Ph.D. and reigning expert in Earth Early Renaissance History. The man was supposedly some type of genius and TOG wanted him. Badly.
Jens thought they might have a better chance of it if they had sent one of those fresh-faced, smooth-talking types from the legal department. Hell, even a snot-nosed private fresh out of the TOG training camps would have been a more likely choice. Charming, Jens was not. Persuasive? Only with a weapon in his hand, and Brandt hadn’t let him bring one.
But he was damned stubborn. He supposed that counted for something. Really, he figured someone in Recruitment hadn’t been paying attention and he’d been the first person available.
Nearly ten years with The Oracle Group—TOG, as it was most commonly known—and Jens still found himself baffled by the convoluted structure of the organization. It was, on a good day, a bureaucratic nightmare. TOG might have begun as a corporation many, many years ago, but over time it had morphed until it was, for all intents and purposes, a military branch, albeit a completely autonomous one. Sometimes Jens wondered if its complete lack of affiliation with any specific government, planet, or civilization was a good thing or not. If people knew exactly how militarized TOG had become, the outcry would be horrendous. But for Jens, it made sense. Messing with the past could oftentimes be a violent endeavor.
Almost two hundred years ago now, Paulo Montessa had cracked the secret of time travel. The realm of Temporal Science had been born. And humanity had realized it had a serious problem on its hands. Montessa, in his quest, had only been focusing on the pure science. Most figured he’d never expected to succeed. When he had, his reaction had been, apparently, something along the lines of ‘fuckity fucking hell’.
Jens had actually seen that quote in a history book somewhere. Montessa, for all his mistakes, hadn’t been a complete idiot. The potential for disaster had been readily apparent to him.
Scientists had been downright giddy. Governments had been up in arms. People had been building bomb shelters and preparing for the end of the universe. Everyone outside academia had started screaming to bury the evidence and ban time travel on pain of death.
But, as that old Earth saying went, the cat was out of the bag, and getting it back in would be damn near impossible. Claws, ya know. Deadly.
And so, TOG was born. If people were going to be mucking about with the past—the future could bloody well take care of itself—then someone had to be around to clean up the messes. People were people, even if their cellular structure had mutated thanks to the environments of other planets until they hardly resembled homo sapiens. There were going to be messes. Some deliberate, some criminal and some through good old carelessness and stupidity.
Which was why TOG was now a military organization. Sometimes the culprit of blips in the Temporal Stream didn’t want to come quietly.
Shit. That brought him right back around to Dr. Stilson. Who would, from all accounts, not come quietly himself. It might have been years ago, but even Jens had heard about the dustup when the Galactic Military had tried to bend that particular genius to their will. TOG had had a good laugh about it and decided it would be best to leave the good professor alone for the time being.
He guessed they’d figured enough time had passed that they could try their own hand at recruitment.
“Okay. Think of what will appeal to a history geek and lead with that.” Jens ran a hand down his face. Wait, did he even know any history geeks? Most of his friends and acquaintances preferred blowing things up to reading a book.
Shit, this was going to be an epic fail.
* * * *
A knock on the door interrupted the most fascinating article on Eighth Century Asian Earth burial practices. Drake looked up irritably. Everyone in the department knew to leave him alone if his door was closed. He was a cranky son of a bitch if his research was interrupted, even if he was only doing it for fun.
Another knock sounded.
“Go away!” Drake shouted.
“I’m here to—”
“Unless you’re here to talk about Chinese embalming techniques, leave me alone!”
The door swung ponderously open, squeaking all the while. It made Drake roll his eyes. One of his grad students had insisted, saying it was only proper for a history professor to have a squeaky door.
Drake didn’t get the connection, but he had learned it was best not to engage in piddling arguments with the grad students. Too much studying and not enough sleep made them unreasonable when they latched onto an idea. Maintenance would oil it over the weekend, anyway.
A large, hulking figure filled the entryway. “Dr. Drake Stilson?”
Damn, that was a voice that belonged… Well, maybe not on stage, but Drake would listen to it read poetry any day. Hell, that voice? Could read the phone book to him. Deep, dark and sexy as all get out.
“I’m Dr. Stilson. What can I do for you?” Grope? Kiss? Blow job?
The man stepped into the light. Drake narrowed his eyes, all attraction vanishing like a puff of smoke at the sight of the perfectly pressed uniform.
“Go away,” he ordered again.
“Dr. Stilson, I’m—”
“I don’t give a fuck who you are. Get the hell out of my office. And tell those bastards at GM, for the last time, I’m not going to consult. Ever.”
“I’m not from the GM.”
“You’re wearing a uniform. Close enough. Go away.”
The idiots at the Galactic Military had been pestering him for months now. A recent uprising on one of the more backwoods planetary settlements had, once again, gotten them interested in old battle strategies, which just so happened to be one of Drake’s specialties. Once, long ago, he had given in and consulted. Once. After that debacle, he had sworn never again. He and military types were not a good combination.
Again Drake’s orders were ignored. He got a wry grin instead. It was an interesting look on the stark features.
The owner of that admittedly still spine-tingling voice wasn’t much to look at. He was big and filled out his uniform nicely, but his features were harsh and uncompromising. His hair was cropped close to his skull and, with the pale color, it made him look nearly bald. The lack of hair made his ears more prominent. His eyes, though…damn. A deep, dark navy, bordering on black, they crinkled slightly at the sides where light lines highlighted wrinkles in his tanned skin.
“Dr. Stilson, I’m Jens Pakkala, and I’m most emphatically not Galactic Military.” He tapped a patch on his breast. “Oracle Group. And we don’t want a consultation. We want to recruit you.”
“No.” To emphasize how very little that offer interested him, Drake pulled up his copy of History Today and buried his nose in the article. Unfortunately, the smell of cinnamon and honey kept distracting him. Damn, but that was some fabulous cologne.
“I think you’re gonna want to hear me out.”
Pakkala snorted. “I’ve been ignored by better men than you. I’ll talk, you listen, huh?”
Without an invitation, Pakkala moved a pile of papers and plopped his butt on the edge of Drake’s desk. It was, Drake noted despite himself, a fabulous butt, nice and firm, plump enough to get a good grip on. The seated position took away his view of that ass, but it gave him a perfect view of rock-hard thighs and a prominent package in the dark blue, pressed pants. For a uniform, they were, in Drake’s opinion, obscenely tight. He approved.
“We’ve just lost our top expert in Renaissance history and, in looking for a replacement, your name came up.”
The statement pulled Drake away from his ogling. He tried to don a glare to cover up the lust. Hopefully the raised magazine hid the fact that he was panting a little.
“That’s not exactly a promising opening,” Drake informed the uniform on the other side of his magazine. He was studiously ignoring those piercing eyes. They made him want to agree to things. Dirty, kinky, highly inappropriate things.
“She had a baby,” Pakkala said dryly. “What, you thought she got shot?”
“It had crossed my mind.”
“Your prejudice is showing. TOG members rarely get shot. Just because we wear uniforms and carry weapons doesn’t make us soldiers.”
“Funny, I kind of thought that was how it worked.”
Pakkala actually laughed. “Damn, I think we’re going to get along just fine.”
“Why would I care?”
“Because she was my partner, which means we would be working together. Closely. Temporal agents always work in pairs, one member in the past, the other grounding them in the future.”
“I’m still not… Wait, did you say in the past?”
That grin was downright lethal. “I thought that might catch your attention.”
Drake slowly lowered the magazine to the desk. “All right, I’m listening.”