The episode begins with Garak and Cadet Nog playing a game of kotra, a Cardassian strategy game. Garak is on the verge of victory, chastising Nog for playing defensively when the game rewards grand offensive maneuvering. Chief O'Brien interrupts and verifies Garak's strategy, who in turn comments how interesting it is the station chief would know so much about a Cardassian game. O'Brien rebuffs Garak and the reference to his past as the "Hero of Setlik III".
O'Brien reveals one of the station's plasma distribution manifolds has broken down, and a team is to be sent to Deep Space Nine's abandoned sister space station, Empok Nor, to salvage components. The team consists of O'Brien, Garak, Nog, engineers Pechetti and Boq'ta, and security officers Stolzoff and Amaro. Garak is brought along to help disarm booby traps targeted at non-Cardassians, such traps being routinely left behind when space stations are abandoned by the Cardassians.
There are no life signs, but in the infirmary they discover two recently deactivated stasis tubes and a third one with a dead Cardassian soldier: a member of the 3rd battalion, 1st order (one of the most dedicated in the Cardassian military - their motto is "Death To All"). Suddenly, the away team's runabout detaches from the station and explodes, stranding them inside.
The recently awoken Cardassian soldiers attack the away team, killing Pechetti, Boq'ta and Stolzoff. Fighting back, the remaining away team members manage to eliminate the two soldiers thanks to the direct aid of Garak. As the team continues the scavenge for station parts, they remark on Garak's ruthlessness, wondering how a tailor could be such a vicious and efficient killer. As they search for a way home, Garak begins to act oddly, as the natural Cardassian tendency for xenophobia begins to be compounded and intensified. This is confirmed when the team discovers the members of the 3rd Battalion: 1st Order had been subjected to a treatment that enhanced their natural aggression toward other races and the treatment had permeated the station.
Garak eventually loses all self-control (due to the drug) and kills Amaro, then proceeds to playing a real life game of kotra with O'Brien. Garak captures Nog and the only means of contacting Deep Space Nine for a chance of rescue. By this time his xenophobia has reached a fevered pitch. While waiting for O'Brien to appear, Garak comments to Nog how it's taking all his willpower to not kill him right then and there.
Eventually, O'Brien confronts Garak, and, after a quick exchange, O'Brien knocks Garak unconscious, rescues Nog, and contacts the station. The three are rescued with the salvaged part--but at a terrible price. The episode ends with O'Brien visiting Garak, who's being treated in sick bay. Garak expresses his sincere regret for his actions to the dead crew members as well as to O'Brien and Nog. He asks O'Brien to relay his condolences to the family members of the dead Star Fleet crew members and O'Brien solemnly agrees. O'Brien says there will need to be a hearing but that he will make sure the board knows that Garak was not responsible for what happened.