Ascelius is an academic world whose only export is the education bestowed upon the students at its’ numerous competing universities. Dumarest claims to have a doctorate in the martial arts (which he can obviously back up with his speed, skill, and the knowledge of warfare gained from repeated employment as a mercenary), and poses as an instructor promoting a new curriculum. The entire middle third of the book is highly amusing as he navigates the perils of academia, and while the tyrants, madmen and backstabbers he encounters are all of the non-lethal variety (unlike the typical Dumarest adventure), he finds it just as challenging (and is just as successful in the end).
He seduces Myra Favre, the chief administrator of the university where Rudi taught (and who was Rudi’s lover before he met the young, ambitious Isobel). She introduces him to Rudi’s surviving partners in the plan to mine juscar on Elysius in order to build a stake to mount a full-scale expedition to Earth. Most are dead, and those who remain are elderly, but one of them gives him a name related to the search: “Erce”. Dumarest then enlists the aid of Sheen Agnostino, a fellow traveler whom he befriended on the journey to Ascelius and who is there to obtain an advanced degree in computer science. She hacks the library computer only to discover that all significant data about Earth (beyond the standard “legendary world sometimes associated with The Original People” babble) and pertaining to Rudi’s search for it have been erased (apparently by Rudi himself). She does discover that Rudi visited Kuldip, the home of Chetame Labs, immediately before he permanently left Ascelius for Elysius.
Meanwhile, he learns a single clue from Myra: the word “Circe”, which he believes is what the senile professor really meant when he said “Erce”. He also learns, almost too late, that Myra has been advised by Cyber Okos, and Myra is accidentally killed in an attempt to apprehend Dumarest. He realizes the Cyclan is close, attempts to flee and makes it to the spaceport, but is injured in the attempt. Fortunately, at the last minute he is whisked aboard a ship which immediately departs, and is given medical attention by none other than Charisse Chetame, who takes him to Kuldip.
Charisse explains that her deceased father, previous owner of her biotech company, was interested in Earth and The Original People due to the implications they had for theories of human evolution and genetic manipulation. Rudi, although driven by different motives, had sought her father out because he had the final clue Rudi needed to find Earth. She also suggests that “Erce” is an alternative name for Earth. Earl discounts that possibility, believing “Circe” was the senile professor’s oblique reference to Charisse, because Rudi visited Kuldip near the end of his search, and the mythological Circe turned men to beasts (sort of what a genetic engineer does).
Dumarest quickly learns that Charisse is more interested in him as a specimen of the ultimate human survival trait than she is as a lover (although she uses him as both), and when she attempts to pit him against another of her genetically engineered monsters (against which he has no chance of winning) as a demonstration to potential customers, he escapes. Avoiding über watchdogs on the ground and mutant hornets on the lab roof, he manages to break into her father’s library, but is confonted by Charisse and Cyber Okos. The reader has known since the opening chapter that Okos has been infected by the afflicted brains in the Cyclan Central Intelligence during rapport, and is quite insane (and in fact has sent the rest of the Cyclan in the opposite direction while he pursued Dumarest alone), but Dumarest only realizes this as the Cyber babbles on. Dumarest forces a Mexican standoff between the three of them as Charisse realizes that Okos has no intention of delivering the reward he promised for Dumarest’s capture (which was obviously why she followed Dumarest to Ascelius, although Dumarest was too obsessed with finally learning Earth’s coordinates to figure it out at the time).
Care to guess what happens next? Okos kills Charisse and Dumarest kills Okos. No, really. Anyway, Dumamrest peruses the library and learns several things. First, Erce is indeed another name for Earth and is venerated by a cult on Newdon (possibly a branch of The Original People). Second, it is located within the region of the galaxy bounded by a dust cloud to the galactic north of Silus, and the spatial anomolies known as Morgan’s Sink and the Hygenium Vortex. Finally, the coordinates are... (drum roll please); oh come on, you see it coming, don't you? Yep, the coordinates are missing, stolen from the records years ago by Rudi Boulaye right before he emigrated to Elysius. Sweet.