Gan is coming of age and has reached a point where he must make his final choice regarding whether to accept a role as T'Gatoi's egg host. If he accepts he will use his body to incubate and feed her children. The advantages and disadvantages are both personal to his family and general to his race. Gan is in competition with three of his immediate family members for possession of his role as T'Gatoi's chosen egg donor. His admiration for T'Gatoi and his jealousy are illustrated early in the story and repeated throughout. His admiration, affection for, and desire for T'Gatoi and for the position and rank of egg host are deciding factors in the story's resolution.
T'Gatoi is an adult alien Tlic who is experienced in diplomacy. She has strong opinions about the best possible arrangement for humans and Tlic. She has worked hard to buy humans security and rights among Tlic who desire to exploit humans. T'Gatoi is honorable, disciplined, and compassionate. Her decisions are backed by her convictions about the worth of Gan's people. In spite of this, she is frustrated that she must deal with Gan's revulsion and indecision.
Qui has seen the worst the Tlic egg host position offers. The situation is brutal when things go wrong. Qui is emotionally harmed by what he has witnessed. He remains with his family, in constant contact with T'Gatoi, under her protection, and soothed and sedated by her eggs. His behavior suggests he is trapped between an attraction similar to Gan's and overwhelming fear.
Lien and T'Gatoi were close friends in their childhood. The relationship was powerful. T'Gatoi is the bloodchild of Gan's father. There are hints T'Gatoi went out into the Tlic world and created the Preserve and the current consensual arrangement of egg hosting for Lien. The two have grown apart, and Lien is now protective of her son Gan while still jealous of her special relationship with T'Gatoi.