The Enterprise has been assigned to the Moab sector to track a stellar core fragment from a disintegrated Neutron star.
The planet Moab IV, very near to the fragmentâs projected path, is inhabited by humans and is now in danger. Picard's communications go unheeded until he explains the danger. Only then, does the leader Aaron Conor reply. Conor states that he doesn't want the colony evacuated, but that the Enterprise can plead its case.
Conor explains to the away team that his people have been genetically engineered with selective breeding over seven generations in the pursuit of perfection. The founders of the colony intended to create people without flaws who would live in a "Masterpiece Society". Conorâs people believe that their colony is so perfectly balanced and tuned that all the accomplishments resulting from following the guiding principles they have lived by for over 200 years would be jeopardized if they evacuated.
Accepting this, the away team decides to investigate alternative solutions to the problem. Enterprise Chief Engineer Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge is introduced to Hannah Bates, a scientist. Deanna Troi takes a tour with Conor.
Hannah shows Geordi an idea she was working on for a multi phase tractor beam. The two theorize that by using her idea along with the Federationâs technology and the immense output of the matter/antimatter reaction warp core which powers the ship's warp drive propulsion system, it might be possible to modify the shipâs tractor beam, enabling the Enterprise to alter the course of the fragment. Conor reluctantly allows Hannah to go to the ship; this is the first time a colonist has left.
Troi states many colonists are willing to risk staying behind. Picard asks Troi to help Conor see the reality of what could happen to the colonists and their society if they choose to stay.
In doing so, Troi develops a further attraction to Conor and has a romantic encounter. She later considers it a mistake and says they should not meet again.
Aboard the Enterprise, Geordi and Hannah have no luck with their research, as moving a massive object on such a scale has never been attempted before. Finally Geordi realizes that a compression routine similar to the technology used in his VISOR can break the energy pulses down enough that the emitter elements of the tractor beam will not burn out. He reflects on the irony of the fact that technology from a blind manâs visual prosthetic device â a man seen as disabled who would have been terminated as a fertilized cell in the genetically engineered colony â supplies the answer which saved the society. After several days of work the two are successful in developing the enhanced tractor beam, but unfortunately it wonât be able to change the fragmentâs course enough to save the colony. However, Geordi and Hannah report to Picard that also augmenting the biosphereâs structure with portable shield generators supplied by the Enterprise should reinforce it enough to withstand the gravitational effects. When told of the plan, Conor resists the further âcontaminationâ of his society with 50 engineering teams from the Enterprise to set up and maintain the generators, but ultimately he decides to allow it.
After very nearly losing all life support on the Enterprise the core fragment is deflected 1.21 degrees, barely the amount needed, and the fragment passes without incident.
Soon after, the last of the Federation engineering teams leave for the Enterprise, and Conor congratulates Geordi and Hannah. This proves premature though, when an alarm goes off indicating a breach in the biosphere. After examining her instruments, Hannah reports that the reinforcement wasnât adequate and the biosphere has cracked, adding that the colony is going to have to be evacuated after all. Geordiâs VISOR fails to pick up what she claims to have detected however, and she is forced to admit she fabricated the whole thing because she has decided she wishes to leave. She tells Geordi she has struggled with the realization that the outside world has progressed very rapidly while her supposedly superior genetically engineered society has lagged behind. She requests asylum aboard the Enterprise, and to leave Moab.
While he knows that due to the finely tuned nature of the engineered society it may be destroyed, Picard decides that, although he can warn the dissenters of the consequences of their actions if they choose to leave, he must ultimately extend asylum to those who request it, as to do otherwise would be to suppress the human right of free will. Troi accompanies the Captain down to the planet to discuss this with Conor, although she feels obligated to inform Picard of her mistaken liaison.
Ultimately, despite Conor's pleas, Hannah and 22 other colonists decided to leave with the Enterprise.
As the Enterprise breaks orbit, Picard reflects with First Officer Commander William Riker on how this affair is a clear example of the necessity of the Prime Directive; the intervention of the Federation to save the colonists may have, in the end, proved just as dangerous to the colony as any core fragment could ever have been.