Ethan of Athos, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published in 1986 by Baen Books, is the third novel written in the Vorkosigan Saga. Chronologically it takes place after Cetaganda and before "Labyrinth." It has also been collected in the omnibus edition Miles, Mystery and Mayhem.
Ethan of Athos was nominated for a Seiun Award (Japanese Hugo) in 2005 for best translation of a foreign novel.
You might think that an obstetrician on a planet forbidden to women would be underemployed... Not so; Dr. Ethan Urquhart, Chief of Biology at the Severin District Reproduction Center, is one of the busiest men on the planet Athos. That is, until a mysterious genetic crisis threatens Athos with extinction.
Drafted to brave the wider universe in quest of new ovarian tissue cultures, Ethan braces himself for his first encounter with alien beings ... women. But not in his wildest imaginings is he prepared for an alliance with Commander Elli Quinn, an utterly gorgeous free mercenary intelligence officer, who has her own secret interests in Athos's problems.
Plot Summary Edit
Dr. Ethan Urquhart served as Chief of Biology at the Sevarin District Reproduction Center on the planet of Athos. For religious reasons, Athos was founded and maintained as an exclusively male-populated planetary colony, whose continuing reproduction relied on uterine replicator technology and ovarian tissue cultures. However, after 200 years of service, the ovarian cultures were deteriorating into senescence. The Population Council attempted to mail-order new ovarian cultures from another planet known as Jackson's Whole, but instead they received an unusable mixture of human and animal tissues, all dead. In response, the Council dubbed Ethan their planetary ambassador and sent him offworld in search of a fresh batch of tissue cultures, and (if possible) a refund from the original supplier, House Bharaputra.
Ethan's first encounter with a woman occurred the moment he stepped off the ship onto Kline Station; he asked directions from Commander Elli Quinn, a rather unorthodox intelligence officer with the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, who claimed to be on home leave for the first time in ten years. He escaped from her, only to be attacked and interrogated by military agents from the Cetagandan Empire who were seeking the fugitive Terrence Cee as well as the lost tissue cultures. They decided to kill him to conceal their actions, but Elli rescued him; Ethan and Elli then had a long conversation about the Cetagandans. He learned that the same ones who had attacked him had also recently attacked House Bharaputra, killed the researchers who had worked on Athos's order, and destroyed their records. They had then traveled to Kline Station, and were currently simply sitting there waiting for something to happen. In the meantime, the Bharaputrans, seeking revenge upon the Cetagandans, had hired Elli to track down and kill them; she agreed to do so primarily to prevent the Jacksonians from getting in her way as she followed her actual mission – namely, to gather information about the Cetagandan actions for the Dendarii.
Ethan spent the next week recuperating in her bedroom; after an argument with Elli, Ethan left her room in a huff, only to be re-attacked by the Cetagandans. He fled. Soon afterwards, Terrence Cee approached him with a request for asylum. Ethan learned that Terrence, the last surviving creation (originally labelled as L-X-10-Terran-C) of a Cetagandan genetic project to create telepaths, was on the run from them. Although his telepathy was reliable, it had a short range and could only be triggered for a short amount of time by ingesting large doses of the amino acid tyramine. Terrence’s female counterpart Janine (J-9-X-Ceta-G) had been killed in the escape, but he managed to preserve her body and convey it to Jackson's Whole, where he bribed House Bharaputra to splice her genes into the ovarian cultures that were to be sent to Athos. Terrence had intended to escort the cultures to their destination but was delayed on his way to Kline Station, and was now horrified to learn that they had disappeared and been replaced by the useless material which ultimately arrived.
It turned out that for petty personal reasons, a minor official on Kline Station had "thrown out" the Bharaputran tissue cultures with Janine's genes. Elli, with not-entirely-welcome help from a Jacksonian hit squad, defeated the Cetagandans and attempted to recruit Terrence to the Dendarii. He wasn't interested, but he did agree to give her a small genetic sample to take back to the Dendarii. Meanwhile, Ethan asked Elli for some of her own ovarian cells so that he could create a new tissue culture for Athos. "We all trade in flesh here, it seems," was Elli's comment on the pair of transactions.
After her departure, the original Bharaputran shipment unexpectedly turned up intact and usable, not destroyed. Ethan bought a new set of ovarian cultures anyway as a cover, used their packaging to relabel the cultures with Janine's (and now Elli's) genes, and returned with them and Terrence to his quiet and peaceful life on Athos.