The USS Enterprise-D has traveled to Ligon II for a vaccine, found only on that planet, that is needed to cure a plague, Anchilles fever, on Styris IV, a Federation planet. Captain Picard has to negotiate with the Ligonian leader Lutan for the vaccine. Picard, Troi and Riker meet up with Natasha Yar in cargo bay 1 to greet the Ligonians. Riker and Troi inform Picard that the Ligonians are a closely humanoid race with similarities to Human culture, as well as an extremely proud race of people with a highly-structured society.
The Ligonians beam over with a red carpet, which is rolled out before Lutan himself beams over. Picard greets him, and Lutan introduces his secondary Hagon. Picard then introduces his crew. Immediately, Lutan is intrigued that a woman, Yar, is in charge of security on the Enterprise. Hagon approaches Picard with a sample of the vaccine, and brushes Yar out of the way when she tries to take it from him. Yar then throws Hagon to the ground before inspecting the vaccine and giving it to Picard. Troi recommends not to apologize for the incident as they would see this as a sign of weakness. Picard thanks Lutan and invites them to stay for entertainment.
Lutan agrees, however, once the Enterprise crew leaves, he tells Hagon that Yar may be “just what he needs.”
In the observation lounge, Picard presents Lutan with a 13th century statue of a horse from China‘s Sung Dynasty. Lutan makes a speech praising Picard and saying he hopes their two peoples can become friends. He tells Picard that on Ligon, the women own all the land and wealth, but apart from that they are subservient to the men. He then asks to see the holodeck, and specifically requests Yar to show it to him. She brings him and Hagon there and gives a demonstration of an aikido training holoprogram. After she successfully puts her holographic sparring partner to the ground twice, Hagon – not believing that the hologram is able to harm him – engages with it and is rather embarrassingly defeated.
Lutan tells Yar that he is very impressed by her.
They return to the cargo bay and prepare to leave. Lutan goes to shake Yar’s hand, but then grabs her and forcefully beams her down to Ligon. Picard immediately orders a red alert.
Picard tries to contact Lutan through Ligon’s orbital control station, but he doesn’t respond. He then orders a display blast of photon torpedoes 1,000 meters above the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, they cannot trace the location of the transporter beam. Data starts to explain how the transporter pattern they used differs from that of the Federation, but stops when he realises that he’s completely lost his crewmates!
Picard sends a message to Lutan, advising him that Yar’s kidnap is considered an attack upon the vessel and its crew.
Troi advises the captain that she sensed avarice and ambition from Lutan, but general attraction and curiosity from the rest of the Ligonians. Data comments that the Ligonians value patience and that perhaps they should wait and see if Lutan contacts them.
A day later, Dr. Crusher visits the captain in his ready room and tells him that the vaccine can’t be replicated – only the original will work. She also asks him to allow her son Wesley to come on to the bridge. Picard relents and goes out onto the bridge and asks him to come out from the bridge’s turbolift and to sit at the operations officer station. The crew is surprised as this violates Picard’s order that no children should be on the Bridge, let alone man a station. But Picard reiterates his request for Wesley to sit at “Ops” (operations) and clarifies that it’s “temporary.”
Data is ready with his briefing on the Ligonians. He tells Picard that they live by a strict code of honor and that what Lutan has done is similar to what Native Americans called “counting coup“. In this case, Lutan’s abduction of Yar was a sign of his heroism. Since Yar was the security chief, she was the riskiest target to capture and thus carried the most prestige.
Lutan hails them and Troi and Riker advises Picard that he ask for Yar back. Although he’s not happy about it, Picard agrees and asks Lutan to return Yar. Lutan invites them down to the planet.
Against all of his protests, Riker is persuaded to allow Picard down to the planet, as a visiting leader becomes an honored guest and cannot be harmed. Riker jokingly warns Picard that if he gets hurt, he will put the captain on report.
Picard and Troi beam down to a building Lutan calls his Centerplace. He arrives with Hagon and his “first one” Yareena. Lutan offers any courtesy Picard desires, and so Picard insists to see Yar. When she is brought out she tells him that she’s all right, which is more than can be said for her “attendants” (guards?). The culture difference in the incident is acknowledged, and Lutan says she will be returned at a banquet in their honor tonight, insisting that Picard make a speech at the banquet formally requesting Yar’s return.
At the banquet, Picard makes a well-meaning and well-measured speech about Lutan and his honor and asks for Yar back. Lutan responds in a similar way, but then reveals that he is not willing to return Yar, saying he wants her as his first one. This outrages both Picard and Yareena, who challenges Yar’s right of supersedence with a fight to the death. When Picard objects, Lutan exclaims he won’t give them the vaccine or enter a treaty.
Riker is alerted and maintains sensor sweeps of the compound. A message is received from Starbase 14, saying that the plague has worsened and that millions could die without the vaccine.
Picard and Troi come to visit Yar in a room prepared for her, where Troi’s interpretation of her feelings tricks her into admitting that she finds Lutan attractive. Picard considers how simple this situation would be without the Prime Directive. Yar is confident that she can win in a fight against Yareena, and Troi agrees, saying that the odds are in her favor. Picard decides to reason with Lutan. He finds out that Lutan needs Yareena’s money and land if he is to stay in power. If she dies, he gets her money, so he’s in a win-win situation. Picard says he will order Yar to fight, and they toast.
On the Enterprise, Data visits La Forge in his quarters while he shaves with some kind of uber razor. Data enquires why La Forge isn’t using the razor that he adjusted to perfect efficiency, to which La Forge tells him that perfect efficiency shaves too close. Data tries to tell him a joke, but he still hasn’t mastered humour yet, despite Data managing to crack a joke without actually intending to… causing La Forge to laugh loudly.
La Forge and Data are ordered to beam down to the surface, where they meet Picard. He orders them to examine the weapons on display, as they won’t know which is to be used until just before the fight.
On the Enterprise, investigation of the area continues in order to be ready to transport Yar out in case of trouble.
Yareena comes to see Yar at her request. Yar tries to talk her out of fighting but Yareena is determined to fight for Lutan, unconvinced that Yar is only fighting for the vaccine, and not out of love for Lutan. Clearly, the honor is to fight even if death is likely.
Yar reports this to Picard, as Data and La Forge return with their report on the weapons, which are very sharp, light and poison tipped. Hagon arrives with the weapon to be used – a spiked metal ball on a glove, called a glavin. As Yar examines the weapons, the group overhears Yareena practicing in the arena.
Data beams back to the Enterprise to inform Riker on what the captain is planning. Meanwhile, down on the surface, Picard, Troi, La Forge and Yar enter the arena. The fight starts and Yar dodges and parries Yareena’s attacks. Then Yareena’s glove hits an electrified pole and the glove flies off and hits a spectator. The spikes cut him and he is dead in seconds. The fight resumes and eventually Yar bests Yareena, hitting her with her weapon, and dives on her. They are both beamed up to the Enterprise where Dr. Crusher attempts to counteract the poison.
Lutan is initially upset, however, Picard convinces him he has seen the final blow, concluding the fight. Hagon reminds him he has Yareena’s money and land. Happy with the outcome, he allows medical teams from the Enterprise to beam down to get the vaccine. Quickly, though, Picard orders the away team to be beamed up, along with Lutan and Hagon. They are brought to the observation lounge, where Yareena is alive, resuscitated by Dr. Crusher. Since Yareena technically died, her marriage to Lutan is over, but she still has her wealth. Upset with Lutan, and as she heard Hagon call out to her during the fight, she selects Hagon as her new first one. He now has all Yareena’s wealth and power. She asks Lutan to be her second one and he accepts.
Picard returns to the bridge and sees Wesley is still manning one of the bridge stations and says “Thanks again for manning one of our Bridge stations, Wesley. We’ll see… that you have another chance.” Wesley is delighted at the thought and leaves.
With the vaccine secured, the Enterprise leaves for Styris IV.