In 2385, at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards, it is First Contact Day and a skeleton crew is working during the holiday. A full collection of artificial lifeforms is in storage; they each have a designation with a letter and number branded on their foreheads. Each has the same yellow gold skin and golden eyes as Data did.
The synth F8 interacts with the skeleton crew, having them banter back and forth with him; they try telling jokes and, as with Data, the synth has no understanding of humor. It seems that these artificial lifeforms are far less advanced than Data was as they have no ability to interact with the people on any manageable level, leaving an awkwardness to the people working there.
As they continue, one of the workers comments that F8 creeps her out and another admonishes her for it, with the retort being that the synths are not people and it does not matter if she says things that offend him.
Later in the day as the crew are having their lunch, F8 appears to malfunction ; he begins tampering with the consoles, compromising other synthetics and lowering the shields for the base. When a crew member attempts to stop him, F8 breaks the man’s neck without hesitating.
What appears to be the planetary defense grid is activated and turns towards the planet. One of the station’s crew calls for security, explaining the situation. As she is doing this, F8 walks to the side of the room, and picks up a welder, using it to murder the entire staff and the security officers who arrive to respond.
His job done, as the planetary defenses fire at the planet, F8 raises the welder to his head, terminating himself.
Back at Château Picard in 2399, Jean-Luc Picard and his housekeepers Laris and Zhaban review the security footage at Starfleet Headquarters showing the blast that injured Picard and killed Dahj. There is no trace of Dahj or of the assaillants at the scene. Zhaban suggests that the Tal Shiar might have erased Dahj’s presence, but Laris believes the Zhat Vash, a secretive facade for the Tal Shiar, is more likely to have done so.
The housekeepers, former members of the Tal Shiar, explain to Picard that the Zhat Vash is known as a myth for scaremongering, but is actually an organization established thousands of years ago to keep secrets. Laris reveals that her Tal Shiar handler had told her the Zhat Vash holds a deep loathing and fear of artificial lifeforms. Laris justifies the existence of the Zhat Vash, pointing to the absence of androids, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics studies in the Romulan culture.
Picard and Laris travel to the home of Dahj, where her boyfriend Caler was murdered. Laris takes out a device used to conduct molecular reconstruction, a Romulan forensics technique. Picard reminds her that the technique is illegal in the Federation and its results are dubious. Undeterred, Laris tells Picard that is what the Romulans wish the Federation to believe. She holds the device in her hand and sweeps it across the room, emitting a thin blue ray. When the ray reaches the couch, a reconstruction shows Dahj and Caler conversing moments before Caler’s death.
But the reconstruction terminates moments later, immediately prior to Caler’s death; Laris finds the termination extraordinary and suspects that the Zhat Vash has wiped the particle residuals and saturated the room with antileptons. Seeing the Zhat Vash’s ability to remove forensic traces, Picard begins to believe the Zhat Vash exists.
To find the whereabouts of Soji, Dahj’s identical twin sister, Laris and Picard scour Dahj’s digital assistant for records indicating that Dahj had contacted Soji. They find that even though the data still exists, the index sorting the data is deleted. Laris then taps into the heuristics that the computer has built to quickly identify its owner, which may contain tags created when the digital assistant misidentifies Soji for Dahj. Incoming records cannot show where Soji is located, but it indicates that she is not on Earth.
At the reclamation site, Narek and Soji talk about living in the wreckage of the Borg cube that she calls the Artifact. The Artifact is severed from the Borg Collective and thus is vulnerable. Narek complains that the ship itself is not very Romulan, with the exceptions of the owners and the extraction of Borg technology, which creates a sizable profit. They both joke that Soji was sent by their enemies and since she slept with Narek, he became an accessory to the fact; now she has to be silenced. They both share an intimate moment before the alarm goes off and it’s time for both to get going to work. Soji asks if it’s allowed for the two of them to be sleeping together, and Narek says definitely not. When Soji asks in what capacity will he be joining her for work, he doesn’t respond.
Back on Earth, Picard is visited by Moritz Benayoun, an old friend from his time on the USS Stargazer; Picard offers some tea and mentions that the doctor’s office will be forwarding the medical information to Starfleet once he’s seen the results. Mortiz stays silent and suggests to the retired admiral that he should get something stronger.
Mortiz says that his medical scan results were at or above Starfleet minimums in every category, with one exception: an abnormality in the parietal lobe, which Picard was aware could be a problem. (TNG: “All Good Things…“) When asked what it could be, Mortiz says bluntly that while there are a number of prognoses and treatment options, they all end the same way. Picard asks Mortiz to certify him for interstellar travel with Starfleet. Mortiz questions why he wants to go back out in space knowing his condition, but Picard is determined, now more than ever. Doctor Benayoun replies that if he is lucky, the troubles Picard is getting into will kill him first.
Arriving at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, Picard enters the building and views a hologram of the USS Enterprise before it changes to a familiar ship: the USS Enterprise-D. He is greeted by a young ensign at the desk and mentions he has a meeting with the CNC. The ensign gives him a visitor badge and mentions to the admiral that it’s nice to see him up and around again. Picard goes upstairs to an office where he meets Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy. Clancy questions why he is at Starfleet Headquarters, and Picard says he is looking for Bruce Maddox. He mentions that Maddox is using neurons from the late Lieutenant Commander Data to create a new organic synthetic, and that the Romulans are involved in all this. Picard says that if there’s a chance that whatever is left of Data is somewhere out there, the Federation owes it to him to investigate. While Picard concedes that they have frequently not seen eye-to-eye, he requests that she reinstate him to Starfleet and be given command of a small reconnaissance vessel with a minimal crew for one mission only. He also suggests that if his rank of admiral is too conspicuous, then he will accept a demotion to captain.
Right away, Clancy blasts Picard’s suggestion, calling it “sheer f-ing hubris”, and mentions Picard’s FNN interview, which Picard concedes was a mistake. The admiral reminds Picard that the Romulans were their enemies and even before the Attack on Mars, there were fourteen species within the Federation that were threatening to cut ties with them, so they were faced with either saving the Romulans and allowing the Federation to implode or leaving them to their fate. Picard says that it’s not up to the Federation to decide which species lives or dies, but Clancy says they do, as thousands of species within the Federation rely on one another for unity and cohesion. She also adds that they didn’t have enough ships so they had to make choices, but she mentions that Picard didn’t like his orders. Immediately Picard gets up from his chair and states he was standing up for what the Federation represents, what it should still represent. Clancy immediately takes offence at his lecturing, and Picard warns that she can ignore him at her cost, and that she’s in peril, but all she sees are pitiable delusions from a once-great man desperate to matter, and she tells him in no uncertain terms to go home, and denies his request to be reinstated.
At the reclamation site, Soji is in the changing room, dressed in an orange overall. She helps the female host of a Trill who had just arrived. Noting that the Romulans either don’t yet know the extend of the damage the cube sustained – or maybe they do and don’t tell anyone -, she puts a device on herself and the Trill, and turns it on. She smiles and tells her news friend she’s gonna be fine.
Just before entering “the grey zone”, the checkpoint supervisor welcomes a group of worker, telling them that, as guest of the Borg Artefact Research Institute, their safety is very important. He reminds them to not venture outside their designated areas.
The Trill suddenly notices Narek, wondering who he is. Soji tells her his name. The Trill remarks that she didn’t know Romulans could be so hot. Soji concurs, with a smile on her face.
The supervisor remarks that it’s possible they encounter former member of the collective, and if the badge starts to blink green, they must run-
The doors open, and the workers pass through some sort of screening field to enter the grey zone. Narek approches, and Soji starts to introduce her new friend, but he already know her : doctor Naàshala Kunamadèstifee, of Trill Polytech. Naàshala is worried that the cube could be reconnected to the collective, but both Soji and Narek reassure her there is no danger : the link is broken, and to the collective, this cube is just a graveyard.
As she is ready to enter, Narek stops Soji and asks if he can join her for the procedure. She responds he’s gonna have to get approval from the director of the project. She leaves, and Narek mutter that he actually doesn’t.
Back at La Barre, Doctor Agnes Jurati is visiting Picard. When he thanks her for coming over, she jokes that it was hard to tear away from the action at her lab. When asked what tea she’d like, she responds Earl Grey, much to Picard’s liking. She gathered Maddox’s work from his 10 years at the institute, but it’s mostly redacted. She also did some digging into Dahj and confirms she was accepted into Daystrom. In fact, she was a little too perfect a candidate. Doctor Jurati has a feeling that her entire identity was created all at once, around three years ago. Picard wonders if Maddox could have done that, and she says he had the ability, but don’t know what his motive could be. Doctor Jurati tells Picard that he should not look for what Dajh was after, but rather look for the other one. If she’s out there, where is she, and what is she after ?
Back at the reclamation site, Dr Kabath, a romulan scientist, removes the left arm implant of a “nameless” borg. Soji resents Kabath calling the borg “nameless”, arguing that he had a name, and they just don’t know what it was. Kabath responds that “Nameless” is a name. She then removes the “ocular processing core”. Soji grabs the borg’s hand, and wispers in Romulan : “You are free, my friend”.
It’s nine PM at Chateau Picard, the admiral is in his study. He picks up a silver box and takes something out of it. He walks ouside, pins what looks like his old combadge on his chest, and, after a second or two of hesitation, he taps it and calls “Raffi”, telling her to not hang up, he needs her help, he needs a ship.
At Starfleet headquarters, Comodore Oh, a romulan Star Fleet officer, speaks with admiral Clancy about Picard. When Clancy speaks about Maddox, Oh is interrested in knowing if he is still alive. Clancy goes on about Picard’s visit, saying it was sad. Oh reminds Clancy that is there were clandestine romulan operations on Earth, she would know, and then Clancy would know, because it would be an intolerable act of war. Clancy agrees, and tells Oh to look into it. As soon as the conversation is over, Oh calls Lieutenant Rizzo.
Back in La Barre, Laris is furious about Picard’s plan to seek Soji. He remarks that the daughter of his good friend has come to him for help, and got killed in front of his eyes by a romulan death squad, that will probably seek and destroy her twin sister, and wonders if Laris wants him to sit here doing nothing. She reponds she wants him not to die. He says he has to go, and even though he doesn’t fully understand all of it, he knows that it’s important, and not only to him. Laris tells him to go, and take Zahban with him, so they can die together.
Once Laris is gone, Picard and Zahban stay together. Arguing that the grapes are far more in need of protection than he is, the admiral tells the romulan that he needs to stay behind. Zahban suggest that Picard contacts Riker, Worf, LaForge, but he won’t ask them because he knows they would do it in a headbeat and put themselves at risk out of loyalty to him. Zahban says that he needs someone who hates him and has nothing to loose. Picard is one step ahead and has already made the call.
In San Franciso, lieutenant Rizzo, a human female, enters Comodore Oh’s office. The comodore rapports her conversation with admiral Clancy, and tells the lieutenant that Picard has information about clandestine romulan operations on Earth. Oh also reports that Picard talked about Zhat Vash, and that he is after Bruce Maddox, although Clancy didn’t mentioned any of those points. The lieutenant wonders how the comodore knows, but she takes offence of the question. Rizzo apologies, and asks if she needs to take care of Picard. Oh responds that Rizzo is too impatient, which is not a good thing for an undercover agent. If the need arises, Oh will take care of Picard herself. She wants Rizzo to stay on her mission, and even though she missed her previous opportunity to interogate “the thing”, she has another one that she must not squander. Rizzo says she has her best man on it, but that doesn’t seem to reassure the Comodore : she says that “everything is at stake” and that Rizzo must see that her man must not fail.
Picard gets out of a flying taxi in the middle of the desert. He walks to a trailer, from which a woman gets out with a shotgun. She tells him he can turn away and go home. Picard responds he just want to talk, but there is nothing he can say she wants to hear. He turns around, muttering that secret romulan assasins are operating on earth. She asks if the bottle of wine he brought is “the ’86”, lowers her gun and invited Picard in.
Back on the cube, Rizzo appears to Narek as a hologram. They exchange a few words before she asks if he made progress. He says that indeed he has, and that his approach, although slow, is the only sound one. She then informs Narek that she will arrive soon, he takes offence, stating that he is on top of it. Turning to the unmade bed, Rizzo confirms that it would seem so. She then asks if he found the nest, and if the machine has given up the location of its fellow abominations. He doesn’t responds and walks through her image. She says that a lot of people have reservations about his approach, and calls him “baby brother”. If he doesn’t have any result by the time she arrives, she will have to try her own approach, and that won’t be a pleasant one.