In 2386, on Vergessen in the the Seven Domes, Lieutenant Icheb is restrained on a table, anxious, and bloodied. His left eye is being held open, as a woman drills into him, before forcibly pulling the eye from its socket, revealing Borg cybernetic technology attached to the eye. The woman severs the eye from Icheb, as he screams in agony, before she asks him where his cortical node is. She is about to further strip him for his parts when a crash is heard. She looks around and calls out for Bjayzl, before Seven of Nine stuns every person in the room working near Icheb. She rushes over to Icheb, who urges her to leave him She refuses to leave without him, but the damage to Icheb is too severe, and he is suffering immensely. Realizing there is no way to save her friend, she embraces him one last time, before she charges her phaser, reluctantly euthanizes Icheb, and mourns over his body.
Thirteen years later, Bjayzl is enjoying herself in Stardust City on Freecloud when she’s approached by a Beta Annari named Vup, who informs her that Bruce Maddox is in the building. She muses how the mighty have fallen, before she orders Vup to have Maddox killed. Vup is about to oblige, when she changes her mind, and decides on another approach.
Maddox is sitting by himself, visibly anxious, when Bjayzl approaches him and greets him in a friendly manner, saying he’s looked better. He tells her that he’s in hiding, and that his lab has been destroyed. Bjayzl offers him some tranya to help him relax. Bruce takes a drink, and apologizes to her because he is in debt to her, and will be unable to repay her now. She asks who he thinks did this, and he whispers to her that he believes it was the Tal Shiar. She admits that this changes things, before Maddox begins to gag on his drink, and falls to the floor, unconscious. Having successfully drugged him, Bjayzl remarks how making a deal with the Tal Shiar is always a “pain in the ass”.
Aboard the La Sirena, Seven visits Jean-Luc Picard in his holodeck-created study, accepting a drink of bourbon, before asking him why he is in the Qiris sector. Picard says he is looking for someone. Seven had assumed he was on some kind of “misguided diplomatic mission, saving the galaxy”, to which Picard admits there would be some of that as well. Seven is aware he is going to Freecloud, expressing her disdain for the place, but explaining that the Fenris Rangers keep what little money they have there. Picard remarks on the difficult times on Fenris, to which Seven sarcastically asks if that makes him happy. Picard admits that he admires the Rangers’ goals, their tenacity and their bravery, he is less than enthused about their vigilantism. Seven curtly tells him she doesn’t need a lecture, and that she worked for the Rangers because they helped people who had no one else to help them. As she is about to leave, however, she asks who Picard is looking for. “Someone who has no one else to help her,” Picard answers. “Someone who will likely die if I don’t.” Seven holds out her glass for a refill, and sits back down.
On the bridge, Raffi Musiker is reviewing the file of a man named Gabriel Hwang when Captain Cristóbal Rios remarks on Seven meeting with Picard, and remarks on how they seem to know one another; Raffi points out that Seven is a former Borg, much like Picard. Rios suddenly realizes who Seven is, remarking that she was “notorious”, and that he had forgotten that Picard had once been assimilated himself. He comments to Musiker on the “strange cargo” she had brought him.
In her quarters, Dr. Agnes Jurati watches a holo-vid of herself with Maddox, remarking on how he had baked chocolate chip cookies using replicated ingredients, and asking why he hadn’t just replicated the cookies themselves. Maddox explains he dislikes the replicated kind, and that there was an “alchemy” to it, offering her a bite of it, before kissing her. It is clear Jurati’s interest in the mission is more than simply rescuing her mentor and colleague.
As La Sirena enters orbit, the crew is bombarded by holographic advertisements from the surface. For Rios, it is the Red Bolian, offering to increase the ship’s power efficiency; for Picard, an invitation for “afternoon high tea” at the Freecloud Grand Hotel; for Jurati, a boxing robot from the Freecloud Institute of Entertainment Robotics, whose head she punches off to deactivate it; and for Musiker, an offer to get “pick her poison” at Feely’s Venom Garden. Elnor expresses puzzlement that he did not get an advertisement, before Musiker reports she has located Maddox on a jobs board for “interfacers“, agents hired as intermediaries for business deals.
Using an old trick from Starfleet Intelligence, Musiker has made herself a member of Freecloud’s interfacers guild, and learns that Bjayzl is seeking a ‘facer to arrange to deliver Maddox to the Tal Shiar. At the mention of Bjayzl, Seven angrily explains that she butchers former Borg for parts, and is high on the Rangers’ wanted list. They consider their options: They are unable to outbid the Tal Shiar, and Bjayzl has a small army of private contractors as bodyguards, including a Beta Annari, which Rios considers a “nasty piece of work”. While Musiker believes they were “shit out of luck”, Seven proposes a trade, giving Bjayzl something she wants in exchange for Maddox, something she would find “irresistible”… namely, herself.
Musiker explains that she has manipulated the system to make Rios into a ‘facer, “famous but not too famous”. Picard wonders at the flamboyant costumes they are forced to wear, to which Musiker explains that ‘facers dress that way in order to stand out. She warns Rios to drop his “brooding existentialist spaceman routine”, and that his personality needed to match his outfit, to show a little panache. Seven helpfully suggests a feather in his hat. Musiker also suggests avoiding the Beta Annari if he can; their sense of smell allows them to determine whether someone is lying – as well what they had for dinner, and the last person they had sex with (“If they’re not the same thing,” Rios adds, which unsettles Jurati).
Rios enters the bar in Stardust City, requesting a Temtibi Lagoon (with two umbrellas) and a game tablet from the barkeep, telling him to inform Mr. Vup that he was there. Vup is suddenly behind him; wasting no time, he finds Rios’ credentials to be sound, particularly from Quark of Ferenginar regarding some trouble with the Breen. Vup asks Rios if he is aware of the other party involved, and if he has had any dealings with the Tal Shiar before. Rios replies he is aware, and that he has made it a point to stay out of their way, considering them to be “treacherous, violent, ruthless, and subtle”, and that their concept of honor is rooted in their skill at deceit. If that was the case, Vup asks, why represent them now? Rios confidently replies he’s not, and that his employer is offering “alternative remuneration” for Maddox. “Surprising,” Vup replies, as he pulls a weapon, pointing it at Rios’ head. “I’m not a fan of surprises.“
He asks why they should consider reneging on a deal with the Romulan secret police, reminding Rios that Beta Annari have 1,253 olfactory receptor genes, which means among other things he can smell a lie. Fortunately, Musiker arranged for Rios to be injected with some of her “home cooking”: a delayed-release combination of chemicals that can fool a Beta Annari’s olfactory system. Rios shows Vup a projection of Seven’s bioscans; Vup considers that many Borg implants in a living specimen “impossible”, but Rios asks him how he smells. “Truthful,” Vup answers, adding that a single person with that many implants would be considered extremely valuable. Rios asks his indulgence for the “very smallest” of transporter windows.
During the preparations, Musiker expresses her concern not with Rios, but with Picard and Elnor. Picard, wearing an eyepatch, remarks in an exaggerated French accent that he thought he looked “appropriately sinister”, to which Musiker remarks she has no comment. She hands Seven a pattern enhancer, which will allow them a stable tunnel to transport through Freecloud’s shields, and will not be differentiated from Seven’s implants in a scan. She also arranges to have Seven bound with her rigged handcuffs, which will allow her to escape if need be. Musiker asks Seven why she was helping the people out there, to which Seven admits that after the Romulan Neutral Zone collapsed, she felt someone had to maintain a semblance of order, and it had become a habit. Musiker then tests a dark bag over Seven’s head, to see if she can breathe through the material. Once they found Maddox, Seven would activate the pattern enhancer, and Jurati would beam them back to the ship. At that moment, Elnor suddenly speaks up and remarks how everyone was pretending to be someone else, everyone except for him. He laments that he doesn’t know how to “not be Elnor”, to which Picard tells him to simply be Elnor. “An Elnor that never talks,” Seven sarcastically adds.
Back in the bar, Picard delivers Seven to Vup, all the while insulting her in his exaggerated accent as being “defiled”, “damned, cursed”. Vup again remarks that Seven was “quite a prize”, given how many implants she still had. Picard explains that she was a “jeune fille“, a young girl, when she was assimilated and that she would have to be diced up to get to all of her implants. Picard misinterprets Vup’s reaction as squeamishness, offering to take his trade elsewhere; Vup grins and says he is not squeamish at all. Picard dismisses Rios, and makes one last demand of Vup: In return for delivering Seven, he wants proof that his bounty is still alive, and demands to see Maddox.
Just before leaving the ship, Picard finds Musiker searching for Gabriel Hwang again, finding him in the Stardust City Medical District. She expresses her confidence in him, remarking it was almost like the old days again, and hopes that he finds what he was looking for. Picard hopes the same for her as well, before she beams away.
At Stardust City Reproductive Health Services,
Musiker approaches Gabriel, who is both surprised and not particularly pleased to see her, asking if she put a tracker on him or if she just hunted him down. She tries to explain to him how she is trying to turn her life around, and how she was there for him now, and for her grandchild… Gabriel is her son, and is expecting a daughter.
He comments about how once he would have been glad to hear her say these things, then pointedly asks her about the attack on Mars, about how it wasn’t the synths behind it, about the “Conclave of Eight“, how it was worth ignoring him and his father for some “crackpot, tin-hat conspiracy”. Musiker snaps that it was not a crackpot theory, that the attack was not what it seemed and that there was a conspiracy at play, and lives at stake. Gabriel heatedly reminds her that his and his father’s lives mattered too, but not to her, and remarks on “how much it sucked” to be her kid. At that moment, a Romulan woman exits the clinic, whom Gabriel introduces briefly to his mother as his wife, Pel, before hurrying her away.
Back in the bar, Picard is shown proof that Maddox is alive – much worse for wear, but alive – and dramatically reveals his “bounty” to Bjayzl, remarking on her extensive implants, how those assimilated as children had more hardware. Bjayzl remarks on how she thought it would be Seven, “hoped” perhaps being the better word, and remarks on how she had always known Seven was “impressive”. To Picard’s shock, she remarks on how good it was to see Seven again, and addresses her by her real name, Annika. Then she nods to her bodyguards, who raise their weapons.
Aboard the La Sirena, Jurati paces nervously in the transporter room, so much so that the ship’s EMH (which, like all the holograms on the ship, looks like Rios) activates, asking what the nature of her “psychatric emergency” was, and remarking on her elevated pulse and blood pressure, which she attributes to the EMH frightening him. Just then, the real Rios calls from the surface, flustering Jurati to the point she deactivates the EMH. Rios tells her something is not right and that they may have to abort, and asks her if she has a transporter lock; Jurati confirms she does, but they show as red, meaning the pattern enhancer is inactive. Rios tells her to inform him the moment it activates.
Bjayzl asks Seven if she is still angry that she “carved up” Icheb for parts, or because Seven trusted her, mocking her for being so “noble” at the time: “Save the outcast. Rescue the forgotten. You were so easy.” If so, Seven asks, how did she escape? No one had ever been more valuable to Bjayzl than she was, a fortune in Borg tech that slipped through her fingers. Bjayzl remarks that was not the case anymore, to which Seven shows her how wrong she is: She deactivates her restraints and grabs Bjayzl by the throat, demanding that her bodyguards drop their weapons. Bjayzl fearfully orders them to do it. Picard demands an explanation, to which Seven admits she was not entirely candid with him. Elnor asks if they were still pretending. “No, Elnor,” Picard sarcastically replies. “I think everyone has finally stopped.“
As Elnor takes up the dropped weapons and holds the bodyguards back, Picard looks to Maddox, who identifies him, much to Bjayzl’s surprise.
She then remarks that he was being played, that Seven forgot to mention their “close, personal relationship”. Seven angrily shoves Bjayzl into a chair and tosses the pattern enhancer on a nearby table, telling Picard to take Maddox and go: She intends to kill Bjayzl, but first, “hero to the end” as Bjayzl puts it, she would save the lives of Picard and his crew. Seven bitterly explains that she had joined the Fenris Rangers to help maintain order on worlds left behind by the Federation after the evacuations stopped, and that a young Starfleet science officer from the USS Coleman was helping them. He was on a reconnaissance mission near Daimanta when he received a distress call, which turned out to be an ambush orchestrated by Bjayzl to obtain his Borg implants, which were just “good business” to her. Seven explains that like her, Icheb was a former Borg rescued by the USS Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, and he was the closest thing she had to kin; Bjayzl harvested his implants without anesthetic, without even the mercy of death. Seven had met her on Fenris, where she was posing as a Ranger, and learned of Icheb from her. Picard gently tries to convince her that “murder is not justice“. As they talk, Vup prepares to use a concealed weapon, but is killed by Rios. Seven tells him to use the enhancer and get out of there; Rios is inclined to agree, but warns Seven that if she kills Bjayzl, there would be bounties for all of them, and while he was not worried about himself, “the kid and the old man” – Picard and Elnor – wouldn’t stand a chance. Bjayzl makes an offer: Her life for Maddox. Seven grudgingly agrees, and Picard calls for “five to beam up”.
Back aboard the La Sirena, Jurati and Elnor carry the badly-injured Maddox to sickbay, while Rios heads to the bridge to prepare them for departure. Picard expresses his approval of Seven’s choice, and offers her a lift. Seven declines, saying the Rangers have sent a corsair for her, which should be there by now, but decides to take two phaser rifles from the ship’s armory, saying a vigilante could always use more, and gives Picard a holocomm chip in case he needs a vigilante. As she prepares to beam down, she asks Picard, when he was rescued from the Collective, if he honestly felt he regained his humanity. Picard confirms he did, but when Seven asks if he had regained all of it, he admits he has not. “But we’re both working on it, aren’t we?” he asks. “Every damn day of my life,” Seven agrees, as she beams off the ship… back into the bar, where she immediately shoots Bjayzl’s two bodyguards dead. As the patrons beam out, Bjayzl expresses her surprise that she left, remarking on how she risked her revenge by saving their lives, which reminded her of “the Annika of old”. Seven agrees, commenting that Picard believed there was still room in the galaxy for mercy, and that she didn’t want to disillusion him. She notes that Bjayzl is stalling, that her second security wave would be there within five seconds. She raises her two phasers. “He was like a son to me, Jay,” she bitterly reminds her. “This is for him.” Without another word, Seven vaporizes Bjayzl; as the security team enters, she begins firing on them on full automatic.
In the La Sirena‘s sickbay, Maddox is lying on a biobed, suffering from severe abdominal hemorraging. He asks Picard if Dahj is dead, to which Picard confirms she is. Maddox reveals that he knew it when the Tal Shiar came for him and destroyed his laboratory, because her embedded Mom AI would not have activated unless she was in danger.
Picard asks if Dahj had a sister, to which Maddox identifies Soji, who is working aboard the Artifact, the captured Borg cube in Romulan space. When Picard asks why, Maddox reveals it was for the same reason he sent Dahj to Earth: To find out the truth behind the ban on synthetic lifeforms, remarking that “they” were hiding something, that there were “lies upon lies”. Maddox did not know who, but he suspected that it was whoever was hunting Soji – not just the Romulans, but possibly the Federation itself. Jurati intercedes, telling Picard that Maddox needed to rest.
On the bridge, Rios remarks about the Artifact’s location, and that flying into Romulan space doubled his fee, before asking about their “stowaway”. Picard knocks on the door to Musiker’s quarters, and is rebuffed. Picard simply smiles and quietly welcomes her back before walking off.
In sickbay, Maddox speaks to Jurati, thinking he had been dreaming when he saw her there. He asked if she had gotten to meet Dahj, to which Jurati said she hadn’t; Maddox calls the Asha sisters “perfectly imperfect”, remarking that he and Noonian Soong had managed to create artificial life, and that Jurati’s contribution to the work was essential. “One more thing I have to atone for,” Jurati says… as she deactivates Maddox’s life support. The EMH activates, first asking about the nature of her “psychiatric emergency”, before turning his attention to the actual medical emergency. Jurati deactivates the EMH, before tearfully confessing to Maddox that she wished he knew what she knew, and that she didn’t know what she knew, that “they” hadn’t shown her. With that, his vital signs flatline… Maddox is dead.