Wesley is put in charge of an away team to help further his studies to become a Starfleet Officer. He puts together a crack team fully capable of completing the task of a mineral survey on a planet they are surveying. Trouble occurs when one of his team members challenges his ability, to the point of taking over the team.
Meanwhile on a nearby planet a young female humanoid named Sarjenka (played by Nikki Cox), has been communicating with Data for quite some time using a home-built subspace equivalent of an amateur radio transceiver. Data's willingness to allow contact from Sarjenka clearly violates the Prime Directive. He brings this to the Captain's attention after nearly a month of communication with the girl. He tells the Captain that the troubles occurring on this girl's planet are concurrent with the troubles experienced on the planets they are currently surveying, and if it is possible to find the cause and reverse the trouble, he could save the girl and her planet. Captain Picard considers this, and that Data has and will be continuing to violate the prime directive if he sends the girl any more messages. As a temporary solution, he forbids Data to continue to communicate with the child.
Wesley goes to Commander Riker about his problem with the challenging team member, Davies. Riker tells him that command comes with both responsibility and authority and since Wes already knows responsibility it is their job to teach him authority. And when Wesley figures it out, he will understand command. Riker is called away to Picard's Ready Room. Wesley decides to make Davies complete the task that was assigned to him.
Picard and the senior officers discuss the status of Data's friend and the role of the Prime Directive. After debating philosophy, fate, and the Prime Directive, Picard decides that Data shall have no more contact with the pre-warp planet. Picard clearly wants to help the people of the planet, but cannot yet justify breaking the Prime Directive. But before Data can sever the connection, he receives a transmission from the girl saying she is afraid and asking where Data is and why won't he answer her. Upon hearing the message, Picard decides that this is no longer just a message from a child, but a cry for help, and that they cannot turn their backs.
Once they arrive at the planet, they beam the young girl to the ship. Meanwhile, they have determined how to fix the cataclysms of the planet. Upon correcting the problem, Dr. Pulaski wipes the girl's memory (to avoid her culture from becoming contaminated with knowledge of the Enterprise) and beams her back down to her home.