When shy, empathic Sonja is offered a position in the Keeper complex to train in gene engineering using alien technology, she jumped at the chance to leave her fishing village and the hard work of eking out an existence from the sea and marshes.
She ignores the tall silent Jlaantei guarding the complex, and learns to hide her thoughts from the thought reading Elemental in charge of the complex, while excelling at manipulating genes, and discovers the Elemental's plan of breeding a group of psychic humans as companions to the Elementals.
But when Keeper Sonja discovers she is unknowingly impregnated with the first talented human embryo she created, she is determined to abort, until she realises the fifteen-week-old embryo is already self-aware and mind speaking to her. She is left with only one option: flee the complex to protect him from testing and termination.
If she is caught and returned, she will be killed for disobedience and the babe will still be tested, and when they discover how strong he is he will be terminated, but if she can say hidden until the babe's birth, she can leave him with a human family. After that she does not care if she is returned to her village or killed for disobedience.