Fifty years after the Treaty of Pell established an uneasy peace between Earth and its former colonies in the Merchanter’s Alliance and in Union, an aging Ariane Emory is the most powerful figure in Union politics. She is the virtual owner of its most advanced research laboratory, Reseune; councillor for science to the Council of Nine in Union’s government; and, within the council, leader of its majority faction, the Expansionists.
Through Reseune labs, she developed the “azi,” androids whose expanding population enabled Union to secede from Earth. Now researching how to replicate Union’s most gifted citizens psychosocially as well as biologically, Emory seduces and co-opts Justin Warrick, a teenager who is an inexact replicant of her brilliant colleague and rival, Jordan Warrick.
When Emory’s frozen corpse is discovered at Reseune, her successor at the lab and on the council, Giraud Nye, extorts a confession from Jordan Warrick and exiles him to a remote laboratory on the far side of Cyteen, meanwhile keeping Justin and Justin’s azi lover, Grant, as virtual hostages at Reseune. With his brother Denys, Giraud immediately begins an attempt to replicate Ariane Emory and recover her much-needed abilities amid the fractious and conspiratorial politics of Union.
Using extensive notes left by Emory and by her mother, one of Reseune’s founders, the Nyes’ project succeeds in producing a second Ariane, whose abilities compare favorably with those of the original. With the advantage of a computerized tutorial left by Emory, however, the second Ariane proves herself not only a precocious researcher and skilled politician but also a more decent human being than her predecessor.
Despite the psychological damage to Justin Warrick wrought by Emory’s sexual manipulation of him, his father’s implication in her murder, and the Nyes’ continuing hostility, the second Ariane recognizes his innate decency and potential brilliance. She sets out to win him over, first as her teacher and then as an essential supporter in the political turmoil that threatens to envelop Reseune as the military faction in Union turns ugly and threatens the Expansionists’ majority on the council.
When the aged Giraud Nye dies abruptly, the eighteen-year-old Ariane is able to counter the threatening politics from Union. A nearly successful attempt to assassinate her, however, seems to imply that Giraud and Denys, rather than the Warricks, have been the more serious threat to Ariane Emory’s hegemony.