Thesis Comes At The End...
...of a dungeon crawl

"People lie. For profit, to look good, because they can't remember. Objects never lie."

— -Dr. Voriig Kye, Event Historian interview, AS 2774.102

New Light -> Sundown -> New Light

A young man in a uniform (briefly mistaken for a Boy Scout) shows up bearing a package for Jim Powell. Akito takes the delivery. In case it's relevant, the party opens the box - there's a note saying "here's the data you asked for" and a data crystal. Looking through the data on the crystal, it's a set of the blogs and news articles and such containing the leaks from the Ministry of Domestic Affairs (something that several party members heard about during puttering). Most of the articles are on the "Blogman" web log - Blogman has the inside scoop on all sorts of things (as well as "the beat"), although the content seems to be more about insideness and less about actual juicy secrets.

Ruehan pores through the information, trying to figure out exactly what the leaker's strategy is - general anti-government? Against a specific person? Pushing a particular agenda? Oddly enough, he thinks the leaker has no strategy at all. In addition to the Blogman articles, there's a few others, in things like the Light of EnQuiry, with the byline of Dean Callahan, as if the leaker bounced around a little before settling on Blogman as the outlet of choice.

Back at the IPX offices, various grad students come around and high-five Tom. Way to go! He's the Man! They wouldn't have had the guts to do that, themselves. Er, what? This isn't about the New Light Strangler, is it? No, that was weeks ago. Tom investigates, nervously - apparently he's put Dr. Crichton on his thesis committee, and scheduled a thesis defense in five weeks. Um. He didn't do that, and doesn't even have a thesis topic yet. But the forms seem to have been filled out by someone. IPX has a joint program with the University of Riden, so of the five committee members, two are from IPX, plus Dr. Kye, one is from the University of Riden, and the "outside examiner" is Dr. Crichton. Of the IPX professors, Dr. Netanya is the only one around.

Mirris does some hacking to try and get more information about Blogman's identity. She gets a credit card number that's used to pay for the web log, and an ISP and username that the user connects from: New Light Bits, username Janey37. Searching around some more on the credit card number shows that she buys a lot of CDs on line, and turns up a shipping address for them.

With that as a basic lead, Team Hacker looks into some of the other leaks. Maybe Blogman got fired from the other jobs? Interestingly, Janey37 seem to get packages delivered to the same address that Dean Callahan does.

Sharra's mom calls her, saying that the party she and Katya wanted should be the Party of the Century. Now that the Hegemon is back, should she invite her? Sharra says yes.

Tom goes to talk Dr. Netanya, who congratulates him on having scheduled. The form came over the fax machine, he says. Tom attempts to see if he can edge out of defending again, but that seems to be Not The Thing To Do. Tom hacks into the fax machine to try and figure out where it got the message, and thinks Netyana's copy was faxed to her the long expensive way from Riden. Sadly, he can't figure out who sent the request in the first place.

Meanwhile, Team Sneaky (Max, Ace, Mirris, Ruehan) is off scouting out the house of Dean Callahan and Janey37. They break in and find that Callahan and Janey37 seem to be brother and sister and ransack their computers to discover that Janey37 gets her tips in person somewhere and then types them in without attribution. There's a big box labled "Sources - Secret", but everyone recognizes Callahan's obvious trap and decides not to open it.

"The outworlds underworld doesn't do underwear." -Ace (No, we don't know what it means either. -GMs.)
Tom heads over to the ship, and explains his thesis dilemma. People wonder if there are any famous professors who are out to get him, but Tom thinks Drs. Kye and Crichton are the most likely to be out to get him, if anyone is. Does Dr. Kye want to kick him out to stop having to pay his stipend?
"I'm one of the most highly paid grad students in the Linked Worlds. There was this bidding war between IPX and Memento Mori. So I get no financial aid, and my actual stipend didn't change at all." -Tom
Meanwhile, Team Sneaky watches the Callahan pair go (separately) in and out of their house, and decide to wait until night to break in and mind ream them.

IPX asks Tom to bring a package by for Dr. Kye. When Tom rings the doorbell on the ship, Ruthie taunts him: "My brother could totally strangle you!" Ruthie gets sent to her room, while Tom and Akito argue as to whether or not strangling is a crutch. Akito thinks that bare-handed strangling is to be preferred, while Tom prefers the old-fashioned method of a strangler's cord.

Hippocrates opens the package - it's a preliminary report on the site for the box that Kye has been looking for on Sundown. Meanwhile, Tom mopes about. He has no site. You can't write a thesis without a site. Maybe he should just give up on archaeology. Hippocrates commiserates, but doesn't think using Kye's IPX site would be appropriate. Instead, he tries to convince Tom to quit archaeology and take up world-saving as a career. It definitely has good health benefits.

"You guys are unmatched in... whatever it is you do." -Tom
Twig and Sharra have been planning an overhaul to the ship after the damage from the Battle of Tinara, so Twig asks Akito to not let Ruthie run around, as there are possibly dangerous exposed wires. Akito heads off to find Ruthie, and discovers a few more deathtraps in the hall than he remembers there being before. Like chompers and sproingy electric wires. Ruthie zooshes him into her room quickly - it's deadly out there! Ruthie says Linnet says Mr. Twig Treemonster is behind it all. Where is Linnet, anyway? Ruthie says she's probably trapped somewhere too. Akito manages to rescue Linnet from being trapped behind a fallen door in the mess hall.

Akito asks Sharra if she's noticed that it's deadly in the ship. Sharra is dubious. What sort of deadly? Chompers! And flame jets! No, Sharra has not seen any chompers or flame jets. Installing flame jets is not part of the overhaul. She says she'll ask Twig, though. Twig says there are some problems with some of the doors, so they'll be locked open. For the shuttle bay, however, does the crew wish to move the Exotic Dancer outside the ship before the doors are locked?

With much travail and leaping through deathtraps, Akito gets Ruthie and Linnet to the shuttle bay, preparatory to getting the Dancer out.

Sharra's mom calls back again - the Hegemon is coming to the party. And a noble family visiting from Highguard - the Ramirezes.

Akito complains to Sharra about the chompers - she notes that there's a door which is opening and closing, but surely Akito shouldn't have a problem with that? And the shuttle bay door won't open all the way. Sharra indicates the dial, which is only turned a little, and turns it all the way open. Akito glares and says it was stuck before.

"I feel like I'm at work talking to the testers. 'Yes, that's how it works. How did you expect it to work?'" -Adina
Tom's friend Jack swings by to take him out to dinner, and give him some pointers on what his different committee members will want. Jack also fishes for where Tom's site is, but Tom is cagey about the whole thing, and thinks longingly about the site of Dr. Kye's.

Akito manages to move the Dancer to the next slip, though it's a close thing, as the shuttle bay doors nearly close on him. Sharra notes that the dial is set to "closed" - Akito says he didn't do that! Upon questioning, Ruthie admits to having hit the button to open the doors again, but only after they started closing on them!

Given that many people have now noticed that the ship in its disassembled state seems to be a fairly inhospitable environment, Max arranges for extra posh rooms at the spaceport hotel for everyone - Niles, getting rooms for Ruehan a little later, must make do with the second-poshest.

Hippocrates installs several gel chips in his head, to advance the Grand Experiment. Sharra's mom calls Sharra again - should she invite Dr. Crichton to the party?

"Blogman" puts out her live web-cast for the day. "This is Blogman! The Man with the Beat! Nyaaaaoowww!" Everyone listening to her punk rock stylings seems to take a small amount of Edu damage, if not defended by various punk rock skills. Eating the damage, they do in fact find her webcast peppered with yesterday's classified information.

Back at the ship, people are concerned about the ship doors - the outside airlocks aren't among the ones being locked open, are they? No, no, they're being locked closed. Twig assures people that they can be opened with a few hours' notice. The idea of staying in hotel rooms begins to look more and more attractive.

After nightfall, Team Sneaky breaks into the apartment again and Ruehan mind reams the pair in their sleep. They get a fair description of the leaker, though no name or contact info. Janey apparently meets with her at a particular coffee house each day at noon, where she is given the leaks from the previous day. The team slips out, leaving the reporters none the wiser...

Mirris tries to reassure Tom that he'll find a site. In fact, there's Max, who can look for things - maybe that includes pristine archaological dig sites on the tiny moon of Sanctuary! Mirris calls Max on his way back from the break-in to ask if this is the sort of thing he can find. Unfortunately, Max doesn't have a good way to determine that other than by trying, and so he starts heading off in a direction, surprising the people who thought they were going to go to a coffee bar to check it out before tomorrow's stake out.

Tom heads off after Max on his bicycle, and eventually everyone converges on the Hippocrates, where Max points out the memo about the dig site in Kye's pile of stuff. Oh, well, that one. That one doesn't count, people tell Tom, and he heads away again, dejected. Mirris reminds him that if he can't find a site in the next five weeks, he can join the crew in saving the world instead.

The party (or a subsection thereof) goes back to the bar. Mirris doesn't want to leave the ship while it's partially disassembled, just in case the Criminal Masterminds drop by, but Hippocrates shooes her off to the bar too. Ruehan reminds everyone that this is a plot bar, not just a random having a good time bar. They're watching for spies, remember? Tom comes along, as long as Max is buying the drinks.

Akito, meanwhile, remembers that Talia is still stuck on the Ship of Deathtraps. He manages to sneak back onto the ship, narrowly avoiding electric arcs and big spikes, to get to Talia's room. She shadow blasts him across the hall before realizing that it's Akito - dark forces have taken over the ship! They flee, dodging several more deathtraps en route, taking a fair amount of damage in the process.

Ace tries to brainstorm with Tom for possible sites. Tom wonders if Jim Powell counts as an archaelogical discovery nobody has published about yet. Ace wants to know whether a building with live people counts. No, it doesn't. Well... how about if they were dead people instead? There could be a combat soon, and thing often end up that way.

" 'Dead for five minutes' isn't archaeology." -Tom
Akito and Talia successefully escape from the Hippocrates, pursued by skittering metallic shapes, electric discharges, and omnipresent chompers. Akito tries to find out from Sharra why there are evil metal creatures in the ductwork, but Sharra still doesn't get what Akito is talking about.

"I've liberated Talia." -Akito
"Was she captured by something?" -Hippocrates
"..." "Has she misunderstood Twig's repairs?"
"Well, they are deadly."
Mirris attempts to run a facial recognition check on the woman described by Ruehan as the leaker, but she doesn't turn up anything on the public web. Everyone finally converges back at the ship. Nobody but Akito, Linnet, Ruthie, and Talia seems to be having a problem with deathtraps, though Tom was tripping a lot as he was not paying much attention when walking. This is definitely getting suspicious. Ruehan checks for active psi on Akito - nothing right now. So why would just Akito (and the kids and Talia) be targetted?
"If Agent Morden took over Twig, he'd try to kill you." - Ace
However, Twig seems perfectly willing to approach Akito and even touch him, so that's probably not it. Security camera replays of the "deathtrap" areas show the door opening and shutting where Akito thought there was a chomper, and the "wire trap" being a tangle of wire Akito stepped in. Hmm. Max tries to "find past" on one of the areas - a dark shadow engulfs him (well, mentally), and he passes out for a bit. Max decides that the kids have the right idea, and staying at the hotel is better than staying on the ship. First Frost of Autumn reports that he hasn't seen any chompers or flame jets, either.

Once the party trundles back to the hotel, Ruehan notes that Linnet is using a psi talent in "Spookify Hippocrates". Hmm. She probably doesn't know she's doing it, though. They consider how to talk to her about it, and Ace thinks that straight up is best. But she's asleep right now, so they'll talk to her in the morning.

Ace retires to the Dancer and sets the holoprojector to make it look like the ship is shrouded in darkness and harder to see. This works fine until the morning when the spaceport complains that there is a Glowing Black Nimbus around the ship, so he turns it off again.

In the morning, Ruehan goes to talk to Linnet. He follows Ace's suggestions about playing it straight, and aims for "yup, psi is cool" - that plus a little psychology mostly gets her convinced she should let Ruehan talk to her about psi training for a while, as long as everyone else doesn't come and make a big deal about how it's All OK.

They go stake out the bar in the morning. Mirris waits inside to yoink the leaker, while other people are outside. Janey (the punkette) arrives and sit down. A short time later someone comes in and talks to the punkette. Mirris extracts her background. She's just a nice lady with grandkids, and she buys them presents with the money she gets. She talks to the security cameras in the palace, after her janitor shift, before they turn on all the psi jammers in the morning. Using her recently developed cyberpathy shtick the security cameras tell her what they saw earlier in the day, and she passes it on to Janey for cash. Ruehan is terribly dissappointed. "She's just out for a little scratch on the side? What a waste of time!" Just to be absolutely sure, Ace bumps into her as she's leaving with his akito-paper hand to see if she explodes. She doesn't, so she's probably not Agent Morden.

Tom arranges to bump into the Punkette Girl a bit later, and they hit it off pretty well. She tells Tom about her famous blog, and has, surprisingly, heard a bit about modern archaeology. She wants to know who Tom has doing the legwork for him, so he can steal it - she's heard that's how archaeology works. He says he's trying to do it himself, and she thinks that's cool and noble, bucking the trend like that. Does Tom's boss try and lure him down the dark path, leaving tests for him? Tom doesn't think so, but he begins to wonder... In any case, Janey the Punkette, does in fact seem to be mostly just what she claims to be.

The party sets up an appointment with the Minister of Domestic Affairs (deciding to score the points with her rather than Michael; both Domestic Affairs and Intelligence are interested in catching the source of the leak before the other).

There's a faint buzzing in the air that gives Ruehan a headache, quickly identified as an industrial strength psi jammer. Ace's hand, still held on with Akito's chi paper, falls off. Mirris explains how the group, as inspired by the example of Katya Lavalor, used their traditional unique and innovative techniques to find the source of the leak, a member of the cleaning staff with some cyberpathic ability, who was looking for a bit of extra money. Ruehan clarifies that they don't have any evidence, but Minister Veller makes it clear that evidence isn't necessary at this point, they just need the leak closed. Ruehan also points out that perhaps Domestic Affairs could make a different use of this particular person. Tom tries to decide whether he should throw in his identification of "Blogman".

"What would Dr. Kye do? Yes! I want the cred!" -Tom
Minister Veller wants to know if Michael has this information yet. No, she's the first person they told. Can they hold off letting him know for a couple of days. Certainly. In exchange (in addition to having her support on the matter of Unification), she stamps a bunch of site licenses for Kye's site on Sundown, putting them on the fast track of approval. They could leave at any time for the site! Tom looks excited. The party thanks her, but it's not like they're going to go to Kye's site without Kye. Tom wilts again.

After the meeting with Minister Veller, Jack drops by to see Tom again, with a copy of an email memo that he claims he'll deny ever having seen, if it comes to that (Tom suspects that Jack was trying to find out more information about his site, and hacking around in the IPX computers). It's from Dr. Kye to Dr. Netanya, saying that he (Kye) understands his (Netanya's) concerns, but it's in the best interests of the student. And, if he's unable to bamboozle the crew into taking him to Sundown, he doesn't deserve to be passed anyway.

Tom "accidentally" deletes some email that he needs to recover, to try to see if he can hack in and confirm the identity of the memo, but he doesn't find out anything useful. So, he heads over to the Hippocrates to show the memo to the others.

The crew starts by assuming that this is a nefarious plan of Dr. Crichton's to try and convince them to use Kye's site. Instead, perhaps they can find Tom some previously unknown site in the asteroid belt, by flying around and scanning for one? Unfortunately, even with Max running them, the Dancer's scanners really aren't up to the task of finding needles in a system-wide haystack, and the Hippocrates is still being overhauled.

After some hacking of his own, Hippocrates manages to confirm that the mail probably was sent by Dr. Kye, though he may have himself hacked the system to make it look like it was sent by someone else. Well, this is confusing. It's clearly someone's nefarious plot to get Tom to steal the site - maybe Mirror Kye's? There is a brief moment of panic when Max notes that Mirror Kye is in the tubes. But so is Dr. Kye, and they seem to be the same person in the same tube. And, in fact, Max trying to locate any of the Mirror people just turns up the "original."

The party continues to worry about going on the dig - they'd have to leave the Hippocrates behind for a while! What if the Criminal Mastermind came by? Well, they wouldn't be able to grab Hippocrates' personality if he were on the trip to Sundown. But still. The principal of the thing! Eventually, Tom notices that the fast-track permits don't stay open indefinitely. So they can't actually wait for Dr. Kye to get out of the tubes.

This finally proves the tipping point, and the party concedes that they can take Tom to Sundown to get his thesis project from the Sundown dig. The GMs breathe a sigh of relief.

Tom picks up the standard archaeological supply kit from IPX, and the party grabs a couple of biohazard suits sized for children, on the theory that Ruthie will sneak along anyway, and she had darned well better have a suit if she does so. Ruthie and Linnet cheer - that means they get to come!

Tom goes through the site documents, and then does a bit of hacking (with Hippocrates' help) in Kye's personal notes. There, he finds a file addressed to him:

Dear Tom:
Congratulations. If you've gotten this far, you've probably found the location of the site and gotten the permits. The last thing will be bamboozling the crew into going. I can't give you a lot of hints, but if they prove particularly difficult, you can leak to them that one of the "keys to the vault" is hidden in the Polymath Institute.
Good luck,
Dr. Kye.
The crew declares themselves bamboozled, and sets off. Tom spends some time teaching Ruthie, Linnet, and anyone else who is interested, about Sundown Survival. Ruthie is heartily sick of Sundown Survival on the holodeck by the time the group reaches Sundown, but apparently playing "stuff that isn't fun" requires less adult permission.

Ace sets the Dancer's transponder to be the Certified Milk, and the ship (after many jumps) heads down to the planet. They notice that Kye's dig is in an area nigh-surrounded by Memento Mori dig sites - ahah! It must be the case that Dr. Kye put Dr. Crichton on the thesis committee in order to prevent Memento Mori from horning in - because they can't help Tom with his thesis. How clever! Tom declares that Dr. Kye is Brilliant.

The Dungeon Exploration begins. Max, channeling a businessman from Pierogi, notes that the "vaguely looty places" are in the corners of the map; Tom just cares about gathering data from each of the rooms that they pass, although different advisors care about different things more.

Tom has to put together a hand of eight cards, from a set numbered 1-9 of four suits: Bodies, Artifacts, Documents, and Architecture.
Many mold grues are battled, Tom collects many cards, and the group finds the four "looty" places, though they are somewhat mystifying:
Finally, after every single other room in the complex has been explored, the party finds the storage room with a box in it. The box has a very complex security system, with six questions, things that any Polymath Institute Full Professor would just know:
Akito remembers (with some help) that Sophia's faculty ID number is in fact 37619, since he saw it on her ID once, and Tom uses his miraculous recall of anything that might have had a paper written on it to come up with the grant number for Undeducted Pedagogy. The box opens, revealing a signet ring with the Polymath symbol on it, and a little vial labeled "DNA sample. Do not spill."

Victory! The party packs their loot away, and the Certified Milk heads back to New Light, while Tom writes madly on a draft of his thesis.