The Enterprise receives a message from the Sheliak, insisting they remove all humans from a planet that the Sheliak have the legal right to colonize. The Federation has no record of a colony there—there's radiation that would normally be lethal to humans—but it turns out that, about a century ago, a colony ship went off course and ended up there. The colonists, after losing a third of their number, adapted to the radiation, settled in, and by now have grown to a population of 15,000 or so.The evacuation will take weeks by shuttlecraft (the radiation also messes up the transporters), but the Sheliak are arriving in four days; Picard negotiates with the Sheliak, who keep insisting on not giving them any extra time. Meanwhile, the colonists don't want to evacuate at all (screw the treaties, many of their ancestors died building that colony!), and Data must convince them otherwise.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Blue and Orange Morality: Discussed by Picard and Troi. The Sheliak have radically different thought processes from humans, and Troi points out that the fact they can communicate with them at all is fairly remarkable.
- Bothering by the Book: The Sheliak constantly stand on the exact wording of their very long peace treaty with the Federation, only bending when Picard finds a loophole to abuse.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Data finally overcomes the colonists' pride by demonstrating that one android with a hand phaser can seriously wreck their equipment, then stating that the Sheliak are packing much bigger weapons and will blow them away from orbit without a second thought.Data: [shoots four guards] That was the stun setting. This is not. [vaporizes the water in miles of pipeline with one shot]
- Didn't See That Coming: The crew knew there were humans on the planet, but not that there are 15,253 of them.
- Hidden Depths: O'Brien can play the cello.
- Loophole Abuse: When Picard reads through the treaty himself, he finds and exploits a loophole that would delay their plans by six months. He then hangs up on them and strolls about the bridge for a minute when they call back.Riker: You enjoyed that.
Picard: You're damned right.
- Not So Above It All: Picard when he gets to stick it to the Sheliak.
- Running Gag: Geordi, O'Brien and Wesley get stuck with the impossible task of getting transporters to work through the planet's radiation, and Picard and Riker, taking for granted that they can fix anything, only put up the pretense of checking on them, then blithely leave.
- Robosexual: Ard'rian McKenzie, the local Wrench Wench, develops a fondness for, and even shares a couple of kisses with, Data. To her disappointment, the emotionless Data is more nonplussed about this than anything.
- Planet of Hats: The Sheliak are of the Obstructive Bureaucrat variety. They don't put any value on words that haven't already been signed and sealed in a treaty.
- Planetville: One of the series' bigger aversions—in earlier episodes, such as "Up the Long Ladder," entire planetary populations fit in a single cargo hold, but this relatively tiny colony is a logistical nightmare to evacuate.
- Reverse Psychology: One of Data's attempts to sway the colony into evacuating. Community leader Gosheven, dripping with contempt, responds with Sarcastic Clapping.
- Scotty Time: Averted. Picard demands that Geordi, Wesley, and O'Brien figure out a way to get the transporters to work through the radiation in the four days they have. At the end of the episode, after numerous attempts to compensate end in failure, Geordi admits it would require fifteen years and a complete redesign of the transporter system.
- Starfish Language: The Federation never managed to translate the Sheliak language, although the Sheliak did manage to learn many Federation languages.
- Translation: "Yes": Apparently the massive treaty is this to the Sheliak, used to compensate for Federation languages being ludicrously imprecise from their perspective.
- Tuckerization: Data's shuttlecraft is called the Onizuka, named for Ellison Onizuka, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.
- The Voiceless: O'Brien appears, but has no lines.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Part of Data's troubles on the planet come from the leader, Gosheven, having no respect for him because he's an android. Gosheven even hits Data with some kind of stun-rod, having no idea nor any apparent interest in whether he survives.Colonist: You killed him!
Gosheven: I killed nothing! I merely turned off a machine.
- White Glove Test: After hanging up on the Sheliak, Picard strolls around the bridge and checks the ship's dedication plaque for dust.
- Wrench Wench: Ard'rian, who's fascinated with anything robotic, and becomes a valuable ally to Data.