The USS Discovery arrives via spore drive at Alshain IV. Cleveland Booker‘s ship exits the shuttlebay and heads for the planet’s surface, passing a network of derelict satellites in orbit. Standing on one of many floating segments of the planet’s surface, Captain Michael Burnham, accompanied by Booker, greets Emperor Lee’U and other Alshain as the first visitors to Alshain IV since the Burn. Burnham conveys the Federation‘s request to reopen relations and offers a gift of dilithium. However, Lee’U is hostile to her offering, suggesting that the Federation sought to take advantage of their advanced technologies. Burnham admits that Alshain IV’s relationship with the Federation was strained in the decades prior to the Burn, but Lee’U remains skeptical.
Another Alshain informs him that scans of Booker’s ship found a third, undisclosed lifeform – Grudge, Booker reveals. Their attempts to explain Grudge’s status as a pet lead to a misunderstanding with the Alshain about whether the Federation sought to treat their species as pets.
Seeking to explain their affection for Grudge, Burnham and Booker call her a “queen,” but this only enrages the Alshain, who believe them to be holding a monarch captive.
A butterfly-like species begins coalescing behind them, acting in concert as giant wings for the Alshain. Burnham urges Booker to “do [his] empathy thing,” but the Alshain pull out weapons and demand to be taken to their ship to free Grudge.
The Alshain take flight and start firing as Burnham and Booker run through the woods. Booker’s ship was too large to fit between the trees, so he has called a smaller craft to collect them, which it does shortly after they jump off a cliff. A parachute and ejection system land Burnham and Booker safely on the ground, but they are still taking fire. Burnham realizes the Alshain are having trouble navigating because of the derelict satellites and asks Discovery to solve the science problem.
Lt. Sylvia Tilly, Cmdr. Paul Stamets, and Ensign Adira Tal workshop the issue, revealing the satellites were installed to counteract a three hundred-year-old, fourteen degree shift in the planet’s magnetic poles. On the bridge, Lt. Cmdr. Joann Owosekun and Keyla Detmer explain that the satellites used dilithium to stabilize the power supply and have simply run out of fuel. Burnham orders Discovery to use DOTs to refuel the array, over Booker’s objections. As the array repowers, the Alshain begin flying – and shooting – more skillfully. Burnham and Booker run for yet another cliff and end up standing atop his cloaked ship, which then uncloaks as they beam inside. They beam a supply of dilithium to the nonplussed Alshain, and Booker pets Grudge as his ship returns to Discovery.
Back on the bridge, communications officer Lt. Christopher tells Burnham Lee’U is hailing. He asks why Burnham gave them dilithium even after their unpleasant visit. “Because we’re the Federation. It’s what we do,” she replies, adding that the Federation is ready to provide further assistance, “no strings attached.” Their mission concluded, Burnham orders the ship away with her signature line, “Let’s fly.“
On Kaminar, the Kelpien Council, which include Ba’ul representatives, meets in a large underwater chamber to discuss the Federation’s gift of dilithium. Su’Kal assures the group that because he has left Theta Zeta, he cannot cause a second Burn. Saru speaks about the five months he has spent on Kaminar, marveling at the growth of his people and imploring them to share their knowledge and experience with other worlds.
On Discovery, Booker prepares to depart for Kwejian, where he is to attend his nephew Leto‘s Ikhu Zhen ceremony, a coming-of-age rite. Burnham and Discovery are due to attend the reopening of Starfleet Academy, 125 years after it closed. Booker intuits that Burnham is not excited about introducing the new Federation president, Laira Rillak. Burnham feels Rillak is using the event to promote herself.
At the ceremony, Burnham notes that just one year prior, Federation Headquarters lay behind a cloak and member worlds numbered just thirty-eight. Now, the Federation counts fifty-nine members and has largely lowered the cloaking shield. She compliments the cadets on a bright future and introduces Rillak. Rillak acknowledges the contribution of Discovery and her crew to restoring the Federation, though she notes the development of new technologies to lessen dependence on dilithium. She also previews an expansion of scientific exploration for Starfleet. Rillak reveals the newly-constructed Archer Spacedock, an immense superstructure capable of constructing or servicing multiple ships at once.
Afterward, Admiral Charles Vance shows his wife and daughter the space dock. Lt. Cmdr. R.A. Bryce and Christopher discuss the Alshain mission, but Bryce warns Christopher not to get too comfortable aboard Discovery as his consulting tour on the USS Curry will last just two more days. They join the rest of the Discovery senior staff who are talking to Rillak just as Burnham peels away to approach Tilly, who is standing alone. Tilly hints at mixed feelings about her promotion to lieutenant, but before Burnham can respond, Lt. Audrey Willa calls her to an urgent meeting with Vance.
The Federation has received a recorded distress call from Commander Nalas, an Akoszonam, from Deep Space Repair Beta Six. He reports that two hours prior, for unknown reasons, the station lost reactor control thrusters and that gravitation stability is compromised before the transmission abruptly ended. Vance says subspace relays in the area also went offline, prompting Burnham to hypothesize that a solar flare‘s electromagnetic pulse may have knocked those systems offline. Kwejian is the nearest system, but Vance says there isn’t time to wait for another vessel to reach the station via warp, and instead orders Discovery to respond. Rillak asks the join to see the spore drive in action. Burnham objects, arguing her presence increases the danger to her crew, but Rillak overrules her. Burnham complains to Vance that Rillak is merely trying to boost her credentials by participating. Vance notes that Rillak does not need Burnham’s permission and notes that connecting with a powerful politician could be a useful tool for Burnham later. He excuses himself to eat dinner with his family.
Burnham and Rillak arrive on the bridge as Discovery prepares to depart. Burnham warns Rillak to brace herself, as the jump can be disorienting at first, but Rillak insists she will be fine as she used to fly cargo ships with her father. The ship jumps, and Burnham notes Rillak is unaffected. The perplexed crew find the station spinning erratically through space, ruling out solar flares as the cause. The station and its crew cannot take such stress much longer, Burnham warns.
On Kwejian, Booker, Leto, and Kyheem walk through a great forest to a massive root. Booker explains that the root system reaches all the way around Kwejian, and that a small amount of sap will be mingled with a drop of Booker’s blood in a vial he can wear as a pendant, as his father does.
Leto asks why Booker does not wear one, but Kyheem responds they will share that story another day. They chant in the Kwejian language and Leto runs off to show the vial to his friends. Meanwhile, Booker and Kyheem are puzzled by the strange behavior of a flock of birds.
Aboard Discovery, Tilly reports the station is moving at 720 kilometers per second with a radial velocity of 22 degrees per second. Its shields are down and the hull is slightly magnetized, and Christopher reports he cannot raise Nalas. Burnham reviews the distress call, and notices in the starfield behind Nalas a distortion. Tilly reports it is extreme lensing, a gravitational distortion that must have hit the station and relay. However, Rhys is unable to find anything that could create such a large distortion. Discovery finally makes contact with Nalas, who reports that the ten crew are confined to the main control room as life support elsewhere has failed and that many other systems are failing. Nalas says they can fix the thrusters to stop their spin, but asks for assistance replacing the Q-nodes with programmable matter. Burnham orders Tilly and Tal to beam over once Detmer is able to match the station’s erratic course and spin. Tal arrives on the bridge to wait and discusses their nervousness at their first mission with their projection of Gray Tal. With Discovery in synchronous orbit, Tilly and Tal beam over.
The duo are surprised to find the station crew working on the ceiling due to gravity issues. Just as Tal is about to start work on the primary unit, Nalas jumps in and insists that they don’t touch that unit, as he has full responsibility for the safety of the station and its crew. He asks them to begin working on the secondary processing unit while he works on the first in an effort to activate thrusters and stop the station’s spin. After some time, they repair the thrusters, and the station is able to slow its tumble. Tilly reports they need another 45 minutes to restore life support and sensors.
However, Rhys suddenly detects incoming debris just before it rocks Discovery and the station. Owosekun reports the debris is frozen methane,
presumably pulled in by the gravitational distortion, and Burnham orders Discovery‘s shields extended around the station, though that will cause a major power drain.
The numerous large hits mean the shields will last just fifteen minutes at most, so Burnham orders Tilly, Tal, and the station crew to beam back to Discovery. Unfortunately, that option is unavailable due to damage to the transporters’ Heisenberg compensators that will take too long to repair.
On the station, the crew cannot get to the shuttlebay and so are forced to try using the escape vessel. Nalas points out that the escape vessel is only designed for a single, one-way, trip. Tal offers to reprogram it so that it can return. However, debris outside the station is preventing the escape vessel from leaving. Nalas suggests climbing to another deck, though Tilly points out there is no life support there. The DOT drones would take too long to remove the debris, but Detmer suggest piloting a worker bee to clear the debris. Burnham decides to pilot it herself, leaving the ship to Rhys, but Rillak questions her decision to leave the ship during an emergency. Burnham says she is the most experienced EV pilot and thus the safest and most logical choice, and departs.
In the empty council chambers on Kaminar, Su’Kal finds a pensive Saru thinking about Discovery. Su’Kal thanks Saru for his guidance and friendship, but says that he has begun to fit in on Kaminar and urges Saru to return to the Federation.
As Burnham approaches the station to clear the debris, Nalas expresses frustration with the delay. Burnham clears one of the three pieces of debris before the work bee is destroyed by the impact from methane ice. Burnham is sent hurtling before her environmental suit safely ensconces her and she flies back to finish the repairs. Nalas panics, and when Tilly tries to stop him from taking his crew on a “suicide mission,” he pulls a weapon on her. Over comms, Rillak asks Nalas to give Burnham a few more minutes to clear the debris, expressing confidence in her. She calms Nalas by describing scenes from his homeworld, including the Fissure of Jorat. Nalas relents just as Burnham finishes. The vessel cannot take everyone in one trip, so Nalas, Tilly and Tal remain behind as the others travel to Discovery, including Burnham clinging to the outer hull. En route, she directly contacts Rillak to ask whether her description of the Fissure of Jorat was based on reading Nalas’ file or an actual experience. Rillak notes Burnham wants to know if she lied to him and asks whether it matters. Burnham and the station crew arrive safely back on Discovery, but the return trip for the remaining three crew could take longer than the shields were expected to last.
Rillak suggests leaving them, questioning whether Burnham’s claim that they have beaten the odds before means they will again. Burnham directly asks if Rillak is relieving her, but Rillak relents.
Meanwhile, on Kwejian, Booker pilots his ship into the upper atmosphere to investigate the strange bird activity. He encounters a flock falling from the sky and tells Kyheem to get Leto someplace safe, quickly. Emerging into space, Booker is stunned to see a massive gravitational distortion obliterate Kwejian’s moon. Impacting debris sends Booker flying.
On Deep Space Repair Beta Six, Nalas says he plans to head home as soon as the crisis is over and asks Tilly and Tal about their future plans, but Tilly says she does not know. Just then, the shuttle arrives and they board, departing just moments before a huge chunk of methane destroys that part of the station.
The escape vessel arrives in the shuttlebay and Discovery jumps away a split second too late to avoid a collision with an enormous chunk of the station. Dr. Hugh Culber and medical personnel rush to the badly damaged shuttlebay. Tilly and Tal are alive, but Nalas was killed. Culber, Tilly, and Tal are left to survey the destruction, stunned.
Later, Rillak arrives in Burnham’s ready room. Burnham reports three died and four were wounded, but Rillak points out nine station crew survived. Rillak brings up the Kobayashi Maru test given to cadets to test their reaction to no-win scenarios. Rillak says the lesson is that there are things beyond a captain’s control and they must accept that, but Burnham reveals she feels a need to keep everyone alive. Burnham realizes Rillak came on the mission to study her. Rillak reveals next-generation spore drive technology called a pathway drive is nearly ready for testing aboard the USS Voyager-J and she is considering a short list for the captaincy. Burnham and Rillak are at loggerheads about the burden of command. Burnham insists her experiences has prepared her for any kind of captaincy, though she says she would have turned down the position if offered. Rillak says Burnham has a pathological need to protect everyone, which could lead to the sort of Pyrrhic victories the Kobayashi Maru test is meant to teach to avoid.
They are interrupted when Booker arrives aboard his damaged ship via autopilot. Booker reports he saw a distortion, similar to the one that damaged Beta Six, but the crew is perplexed as Kwejian is light years away. Owosekun reports she cannot find Kwejian at its coordinates. A broader scan finds something hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. The viewscreen fills with an image that shocks and horrifies the crew: Kwejian, completely destroyed.