The Enterprise arrives to help the crew of a Federation outpost, who have been attacked by an unknown assailant. Investigation finds that the attackers were members of the Acamarian species, and likely members of the Gatherers, a notorious group of nomadic pirates. Fortunately, this week the Prime Directive allows the Enterprise to get involved in the affairs of other species, and Picard tells the leader of the Acamarian government, Sovereign Marouk, that she needs to get their shit in order and stop the Gatherers from going after other galactic powers. Marouk is unconvinced that they can actually achieve anything, but agrees to come along and try to get something done. She comes aboard the Enterprise along with her delegation, including her personal cook, a young woman named Yuta.
On arrival at a Gatherer outpost, an away team beams down, only to end up in a firefight with the residents, which is ended when the away team pretends to beam out, then ambushes the unsuspecting Gatherers. As formal of a meeting as possible is then held with the uncouth Gatherers, who initially scorn Marouk's attempts at diplomacy. However, the leader of this particular cell, Brull, eventually agrees to relay the offer to the Gatherer leader, Chorgan, promising a reply within twenty days. Picard flatly tells Brull that he has much better things to do than stick around for three weeks waiting for the reply, and offers to fly Brull and Marouk to Chorgan himself. While this is going on, Yuta takes an interest in an elderly Gatherer. Announcing that she is "Yuta, of the clan Tralesta," she touches the Gatherer, who immediately falls over dead. The other Gatherers shrug off his death as being the result of his age, but Riker has Dr. Crusher beam down and do a quick autopsy; she finds that he died of a heart attack, but that something about it seems odd.
As the Enterprise travels to the rendezvous with Chorgan's ship, Brull very briefly becomes Vitriolic Best Buds with Wesley of all people, while Crusher continues her investigation into the death. Riker, meanwhile, has a private dinner with Yuta, who seems oddly devoted to carrying out her "duty." Riker is able to work out that she probably isn't talking about her cooking, but she isn't very forthcoming with information. Meanwhile, Crusher discovers that the old Gatherer's heart attack was induced by some sort of genetically engineered virus. Further investigation reveals that the virus has likely been designed to target members of the Lornak clan of Acamarians.
Before they can work out anything else, the Enterprise arrives at the co-ordinates of Chorgan's ship. Unfortunately, Brull evidently forgot to call ahead, and the ship attacks the Enterprise, which is forced to disable it. Picard makes it clear that while he's here to facilitate negotiations, he's not going to put up with any crap, and he beams aboard with Marouk and her delegation, including Yuta. Riker and Crusher continue their investigation with Data's help, and discover that the last death by the virus was caused 53 years ago. Examination of an old photograph reveals that the likely assailant was none other than Yuta, who appears to have not aged a day since then.
Negotiations between Marouk and Chorgan are stormy, but with Picard's help are gradually progressing. Just as Yuta goes to serve drinks, Riker beams aboard, with a phaser aimed at Yuta. He reveals the full story; 80 years ago the Lornak and Tralesta clans all but wiped each other out in a massive war. Yuta was one of a small number of survivors on the Tralesta side, and was genetically re-engineered to age slowly and carry a virus that would kill any Lornak clan member she came into contact with. And wouldn't you know it, Chorgan is the last surviving member of the Lornak clan. Riker tries to talk Yuta down, but she refuses to be reasoned with, and Riker is forced to vaporize her. Chorgan is grateful, but it's of little consolation to Riker, who drowns his sorrows in Ten Forward as the episode ends.
This episode provides examples of:
- Aggressive Negotiations: In Picard's defense, Chorgan did fire first.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Riker is all smiles when Yuta pays a visit to his quarters one evening, until he realizes it was duty that brought her there, not her own desire.Riker: I told you, I prefer equals.
Yuta: Even in the matters of love?
Riker: Especially in matters of love.
- Death Glare: Brull gets one from Picard for mocking Wesley.
- Don't Call Me "Sir": Riker prefers that Yuta be on First-Name Basis with him, saying, "I'm not your commander."
- Don't Make Me Destroy You: A non-villainous example—Riker pleads with Yuta to not try to kill Chorgan so he won't have to kill her first.
- Due to the Dead: Marouk is disgusted at the Gatherers for not respecting this when Volnath dies.Marouk: Have you no respect for the dead?
Brull: What's there to respect about a corpse?
- Dull Surprise: The director opted to film Picard, Marouk, and Chorgan sitting behind Yuta as she's vaporized, but didn't realize the special effects would require the three to just sit there, not reacting at all to her death.
- Enhance Button: One of the most glaring examples in any medium; the Enterprise computer is not only able to extrapolate a perfectly clear image from a small portion of a photograph, but is able to reconstruct Yuta's full face when maybe just a fifth of it is visible in the unaltered image. The image could actually be a holographic sensor reading stored from a fixed point of reference, which would mean that elements of the photo could be removed and possibly even rotated.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Brull describes himself this way.Brull: You don't like me, do you?
Wesley: I didn't say that!
Brull: No problem! I have many friends who don't like me!
- Get Out: Brull, Marouk, and Picard dismiss their entourages so they can negotiate in private.
- Halfway Plot Switch: The episode initially seems to be an action piece pitting the Enterprise against a bunch of Space Pirates. That all changes when Yuta kills the elderly Gatherer.
- If I Do Not Return: Brull starts to give these instructions to one of his mooks, but is interrupted with the news of Volnath's death.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After a heated round of negotiating with Marouk, Chorgan is more than ready to have a glass of brandy. Which, considering that Yuta is the person serving it, nearly costs him his life.
- I Owe You My Life: Chorgan declares himself in Riker's debt. Not that it ever comes up again.
- If I Wanted You Dead...: Chorgan accuses Brull of betraying him to the Federation so they could find and destroy him; Picard points out that if he wanted to destroy Chorgan's ship he would have already done so.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Brull is brash and violent, but he's open to negotiating with Marouk because he wants a better life for his children. He takes a shine to Wesley because he has a son about the same age.
- Kill the Cutie: Riker has to do this to Yuta at the end. Though in this case, the "cutie" had done more than a little killing of her own.
- Large Ham: Brull and Chorgan, likely to provide a contrast against the more "civilized" Enterprise crew. Marouk can also turn into this while arguing with the Gatherers.
- Layman's Terms: While scanning the Gatherers' planet, Data detects "several small areas of thermal radiation and carbon dioxide emissions, indicative of combustion." Translation?Wesley: Campfires, Data.
Data: Is that not what I said?
- Left Hanging: While the Gatherer raids and possible reconciliation with the rest of the Acamarians is the story's driving force for the most part, the actual results of the negotiations are left rather vague. However, Picard mentions that a truce was reached, and future materials eventually confirmed that the gatherers did indeed re-integrate into Acamarian society.
- Moment Killer: A tender moment between Riker and Yuta is interrupted by a Red Alert and phaser fire.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Riker is devastated after killing Yuta.
- Not So Different:
- Invoked by Picard during the talks between Marouk and Chorgan, as he points out that the two are more alike than they care to admit.
- He also points out the similarities between the histories of Acamar and Earth.
- Older Than They Look: Thanks to genetic modification, Yuta is at the very least close to a century in age, but looks like she's barely out of high school.
- Poisonous Person: Yuta is a very specific variation; she's harmless to the vast majority of people, but any Lornak clansman who touches her will die in literally seconds.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Acamarians used to be this. According to Marouk, they're no longer proud of it.
- Reverse Whodunnit: The audience knows Yuta is the killer from the start, but is still privy to the crew's attempts at solving the murder.
- Shipper on Deck: Marouk encourages Yuta to spend time with Riker, noticing their obvious mutual interest.
- Space Pirates: The Gatherers, though they steal to survive rather than just because they're greedy jerks.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Subverted, because Riker has to use a "vaporize" setting to stop Yuta, as stun shots aren't stopping her, and even a shot that would have been lethal to anyone else doesn't slow her down for long.
- Troll: Chorgan comes across this way during the negotiations, making unreasonable demands for concessions just for the hell of it.
- Was Just Leaving: Deanna excuses herself so that Riker and Yuta can have some private time.
- With Due Respect: Marouk asking Brull to let her talk to Chorgan herself, rather than just letting Brull be an intermediary.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Yuta doesn't come across as an evil person by any means, just someone who is literally unable to want anything other than to kill all the remaining Lornaks.