The Enterprise responds to distress call from a Talarian vessel. They rescue five teenaged members of the crew, four of whom are Talarian, and one who is a human male named Jono (Chad Allen).
Jono keeps to himself, but shows strict obedience to Picard, which together with some unexplained past injuries leads Doctor Crusher to suggest Jono may have been physically abused.
After some research, it is determined that Jono is in fact Jeremiah Rossa, a long lost Federation citizen. In fact, his grandmother is a Starfleet admiral, and he was orphaned ten years ago when his parents were killed in a border skirmish with the Talarians.
Picard tries to reach out to Jono, but has limited success. When the Captain introduces the topic of Jono's human family, the boy Jono gets angry. However, after persistent effort by Picard, gradually Jono's memories of the attack begin to return.
A Talarian ship arrives, and its Captain, Endar, asks for a status on his son - whom he identifies as Jono. Ten years ago, Endar claimed Jono after the attack that killed Jono's parents, which is allowed by Talarian tradition. With some reservations, Picard allows Endar to come aboard to see Jono, but when Jono says he wants to stay with Endar, Picard suspects the boy is afraid to say he wants to stay in the Federation. Endar insists that Jono will come back with him, even if the result is war between the Talarians and the Federation.
Returning to his vessel, Endar calls for reinforcements, as Picard decides to try to convince Jono to stay. After Jono receives a message from his grandmother, Picard takes the boy to play a form of racquetball. During the game Jono breaks down and cries, releasing a wellspring of pent up emotion. The crew believes they are making progress with the boy - but that night, Picard wakes up in time to see Jono standing over him with a knife, and Jono stabs the Captain.
Fortunately, the dagger is deflected by Picard's sternum, and the resulting wounds are relatively minor. The problem of where Jono should live is now compounded as Jono has committed a Federation crime.
When Picard learns that Jono feels he cannot betray Endar by befriending Picard, the Captain realizes he has been trying to impose his wishes on the boy. Just as Endar's patience is about to run out, Picard contacts the Talarians and lets them know he will let Jono go back.
Jono is transported back to be with his father, but not before Jono bids Picard farewell with a Talarian ritual that is normally reserved for family members.