While on a routine assignment, the ''Enterprise'' is suddenly approached by the ''USS Hood'', captained by an old friend of Picard's (who also happens to be Riker's previous CO) who informs him that the ''Enterprise'' has received new top secret orders involving a time-critical mission. Due to security concerns, they will be briefed by the Betazoid mission specialist, Tam Elbrun. Riker immediately bristles at the sound of the name, due to Tam Elbrun's involvement in the "[[NoodleIncident Gorushda Disaster]]" , which as it's later revealed resulted in the deaths of 47 Starfleet personnel including two of Riker's former classmates. Troi also recognizes the name and asks to see him, since she knows Tam from her university days studying psychology. When Picard asks if he was her professor, Troi dramatically replies that he was her patient. The horrifying revelation that the guy attended THERAPY is enough to warrant a dramatic sting followed by the opening credits.

The crew assembles to meet Tam, who Troi describes as a gifted telepath, even by Betazoid standards. Once he is beamed over, Picard tries to be cordial but Tam is brusque and aloof, unceremonously handing Picard the orders on a USB dri...I mean "isolinear chip" to "save time". He acts a lot more cordially to Troi, who he greets like an old friend. When Data talks to Tam, however, the latter is at almost horrified in shock, asking him [[WhatAreYou what he is]]. Once Data explains he's an android, Tam becomes intrigued, since he can't read his mind. Tam then proceeds to use his telepathy to anticipate what people are trying to say, which looks as grossly disrespectful as it sounds. Picard is getting annoyed at this and calls for a formal briefing in 15 minutes which Tam wants to get over with as soon as possible.

During said briefing Data describes their destination: the Beta Stromgren system on which a Starfleet probe recently arrived. The system contains a star about to go supernova. Tam cuts Data off to get to the real mission objective: orbiting the star lies a LivingShip, code named "Tin Man" by Starfleet, with an unknown power source. All subspace communications with the creature have yielded nothing but silence so Tam, as Starfleet's top expert in communication with unknown life forms will attempt to communicate with it. Troi asks why this is so urgent and Picard mentions a [[SarcasmMode tiny]] detail that Tam "forgot" to mention: the Romulans. Tin Man is in a sector claimed by the Romulan Empire and since they monitor all Federation probes, they sent ships to get to Tin Man first, making this a race. After the briefing is over, Picard expresses his concern with Tam not having mentioned the Romulans right away. Tam apologizes claiming he was distracted, a comment which causes Riker to shoot a dirty look. Tam immediately reads his thoughts and claims Gorushda wasn't his fault. He does so again and claims he knows Riker doesn't believe him and storms away in a huff.

On route to Beta Stomgren, Picard holds a meeting with Crusher and Troi due to his concerns about Tam's stability. After Crusher remarks about Tam's unusually powerful abilities, Troi explains Tam's problem: while most Betazoids develop telepathy during adolescence, Tam is part of a minority which are born telepathic, which causes them to be unable to control their powers. As you might expect, being bombarded with other people's thoughts all throughout your childhood can be quite taxing on one's mental state. Tam coped via regular therapy (which is how he met Troi) and seeking assignments where he is isolated from other humanoids.

Meanwhile Wesley makes his token participation by informing us that the sensors picked up a weird "echo" matching their speed and course. Naturally, the first thing on everyone's minds is a cloaked Romulan ship but as Geordi points out, a cloaked ship wouldn't show up at all, meaning they must be only partially cloaked due to using a lot of power for something else. Picard orders the echo to be monitored closely.

Troi goes over to Tam's room since he has been holed up in there for a while. Tam explains he's doing this because he can't shut out the thoughts of the hundreds of people on the ship. They discuss the Gorushda incident and Tam admits that he might have gotten "too close" to the Gorushdans which affected his judgement and that he should have been more forceful with the captain to accept his recommendations. When Troi asks if he only took isolated assignments in order to "run away" after Gorushda, Tam denies this, claiming he does it so that he can be at peace from everyone's thoughts (his last assignment was with a race with "glacial" minds and "a lovely three day ritual to say hello"). He also expresses his appreciation for Data, since he's the only person he can get to know normally, and not get it all at once. Troi then asks why did Tam take an assignment on a ship where he knew he'd be miserable. Tam then starts waxing poetic about Tin Man, an intelligent creature born in space, mysterious, ancient, alone and lonely. Troi notes the specificity of the description and comes to the conclusion that Tam has been in telepathic contact with Tin Man, which he confirms. Troi remarks that it's impossible for even Tam to hold a connection across light years. "But maybe not impossible for Tin Man", he replies.

At 18 minutes away from Beta Stomgren, the cloaked Romulan Warbird suddenly decloaks and attacks the ''Enterprise'', causing a few casualties and dropping the shields to critical levels as it passes. Tam claims the attack was solely to delay the ''Enterprise'', which is supported when Data remarks that the Romulans have overloaded their engines to the point where that ship cannot return to Romulan space: they're ''really'' desperate about getting there first. Picard asks how Tam knew this and he says he read the Romulan Captain's mind during the attack. With the other Romulan ship two days away, Picard orders the shields to be repaired and begrudingly accepts that the Romulans will get to Tin Man first. Tam is naturally displeased at this.

Speaking of Tam, he decides to visit Data's quarters since he's in charge of monitoring Tin Man. Tam notes the curiousness of a being with such "spartan" quarters and no need for sleep and yet paints as a hobby. Data relates his findings on Tin Man, claiming that, true to the LivingShip trope, it has a layout consistent with a space vessel and an internal environment suitable for carbon based lifeforms but no crew. He wonders whether Tin Man was bred for that purpose or if it adapted itself to serve a purpose. Tam takes the opportunity to get philosophical and asks why living beings must have a purpose. Or do they exist for no reason but to exist? Data claims he doesn't know but Tam says that as a distant student of humanity he is the perfect person to do so. Data then asks if Tam ''can'' read his mind, but Tam says that he can't, he just understands Data very well. Data asks Tam if it bothers him that he can't read his mind, and suggests that perhaps there is nothing there to read besides a series of algorithms. Tam replies that Data is different, and there's nothing wrong with that.

After that interlude, Data and Tam go to the bridge to see what the Romulans are up to. As if on cue, the Warbird starts powering up its weapons. Picard orders evasive action, as their shields are still damaged, but Tam claims the target is not the ''Enterprise'', but Tin Man. The Romulans have orders to destroy it if it cannot be secured. Picard tries to hail them but Tam takes matters into his own hands by concentrating on one message:

->'''Tam''': Danger, Gomtuu. Do not allow.

Tin Man suddenly comes to life and emits a massive energy wave that destroys the Warbird and damages the ''Enterprise''.

While repairs are under way, Picard confronts the exhausted Tam in Sickbay about his contact with Tin Man. He explains he only sent out a warning and that he has been in emotional contact with Tin Man, real name Gomtuu. Gomtuu is the LastOfHisKind: the last survivor of an ancient species possibly from beyond the galaxy of which there were once millions. Gomtuu knows the star will go nova and is there to commit suicide over the anguish of having lost his crew in a radiation burst. Tam gets visibly upset at telling this story which causes Troi to tell Tam to stop since he is "losing himself in this merger". Tam claims the only way to stop Gomtuu from killing himself is to go inside him. Picard doesn't want to send him there, given his stunt with the Romulans and the possibility of him losing perspective, but Tam insists they have to trust him. Back at the ready room, Data and Troi agree Tam's motives are genuine but worry about his stability. Picard then proposes sending Data along to serve as an "anchor" given his friendship with Tam.

Data and Tam beam aboard Gomtuu. After a moment of distress, Tam claims Gomtuu has told him the story of his entire existence. He claims the crew and Gomtuu existed in a symbiotic relationship, hence Gomtuu's anguish at their loss. "Is that the purpose of existence? To care for someone?" Tam says it is for him - and he doesn't plan on leaving. Tam will fulfill the mission by taking the crew's place and giving Gomtuu a reason to live again. Meanwhile Gomtuu will also save Tam: he is now finally free of the deluge of thoughts that plagued him through his life. Only Gomtuu speaks to him now.

Meanwhile, the other Romulan Warbird has arrived and plans to destroy Gomtuu in retaliation for the other ship. However Gomtuu, now merged with Tam, produces another wave that safely pushes both the ''Enterprise'' and the Warbird several ''billion'' kilometers away, just in time to witness the sun go supernova. Picard immediately expresses concern for Data... but he is beamed safe and sound aboard the bridge.

->'''Picard''': Data, what ''happened'' over there?
->'''Data''': Difficult to explain, sir.
->'''Troi''': Tam?
->'''Data''': I believe he found what he was looking for, Counselor.

With Tam and Gomtuu off to parts unknown, Data tells Troi that Tam asked Data to explain Tam's reasons for staying with Gomtuu and hoped she would understand. Data adds he saw something "remarkable": Tam and Gomtuu, two beings individually broken and isolated yet both healed when joined, with their grief and loneliness turned to joy and belonging. Troi is amazed at Data's insight and he adds that when Gomtuu beamed him back to the ''Enterprise'', he realized that it's where ''he'' belongs.


* The47Society: The Ghorusda Disaster that Tam was involved in several years prior caused the deaths of 47 Starfleet officers.
* BlessedWithSuck: Tam's telepathy is extraordinary even by Betazoid standards. He can learn everything there is to know about a person simply by being near them, read the minds of people on other starships with ease and is constantly aware of everyone around him. Which is the part that sucks. He can't turn it off, and therefore has severe socialization issues and exhibits schizophrenia-like symptoms, except that the voices in his head are the actual thoughts of the people in his proximity.
* DidntThinkThisThrough: Tam warns Gomtuu, whose telepathy demonstrates it to be extremely powerful, of danger without considering the safety of the ship he's on himself. The ''Enterprise'' is severely damaged as a result.
* DrivenToSuicide: Gomtuu, at the beginning of the episode, is attempting to commit suicide by supernova due to the loss of its crew. Tam's arrival gives it new purpose.
* ExplosiveOverclocking: The first Romulan warbird overloads their engines to beat the ''Enterprise'' to Beta Stomgren, but the damage done to them means they wouldn't be able to return to Romulan space.
* LastOfItsKind: Gomtuu is speculated to be the only survivor of its species. After the death of its crew it traveled for thousands of years, never finding another of its kind.
* LivingEmotionalCrutch: When Tam boards Gomtuu, they become this for each other--Gomtuu can silence the cacophony of thoughts Tam is subjected to, and Tam gives it a "crew" again.
* LivingShip: Gomtuu. Its appearance was modeled after a peach pit.
* NeverMyFault: Tam (and eventually Starfleet) blamed Captain Darson for what happened at Ghorusda, claiming that Darson didn't listen to his recommendations. (Although it is a bit HilariousInHindsight when one considers how many times Troi's empathic misgivings get ignored as well.)
* NoMacguffinNoWinner: The Romulans have orders to destroy Tin Man if they can't contact it rather than let the Federation have a go. In the end, Tin Man does leave for parts unknown.
* NoSocialSkills: Tam. Due to his PowerIncontinence he tends to respond to questions that aren't asked, or to criticisms that people don't say to his face.
* PowerIncontinence: Tam is unable to control his telepathy, which causes him to be bombarded with people's thoughts 24/7. And seeing as his abilities are apparently powerful enough to sense a Romulan Captain's thoughts from ''a different ship passing by at presumably FTL speeds''...
* PowerStrainBlackout: Tam blacks out after warning Gomtuu about the Romulan attack.
* SceneryPorn: The shot of Tin Man turning around suddenly, sending out the energy wave was included in just about every ad for VCR episode collections early on, generally while the announcer was praising Next Gen's special effects.
* ScottyTime: Reversed - Geordi says he needs 30 minutes for a task, Picard says, "You've got 10."
* StarshipLuxurious: How [=DeSoto=] describes the ''Enterprise''.
--> "Will, you getting soft on that luxury liner?"