A delegation of Federation ambassadors, on a fact-finding mission to the wormhole, is visiting Deep Space Nine. Dr. Bashir sits in Quark’s with said delegation: Lojal, a Vulcan, Vadosia, a Bolian, and Taxco, an Arbazan. The ambassadors pester him in every way imaginable; he cannot please them no matter how hard he tries. Their conversation is interrupted as the fourth ambassador, Lwaxana Troi, cries out from the dabo table. Her latinum hair brooch has been stolen. Quark claims his establishment is not responsible for lost or stolen items, but the Betazoid seizes his lobe and demands that everyone in the room be strip-searched until her brooch is found. Fortunately, chief of security Odo arrives and, after a few brief questions, glances around the bar and apprehends a Dopterian pick-pocket who happens to be in poseesion of the brooch. Amazed, Lwaxana asks Odo how he solved the mystery, and he explains that, since she couldn’t sense any guilt in the room, the thief had to be someone immune to telepathy, such as a Ferengi like Quark. However, as Odo doesn’t believe Quark would stoop down to petty theft, he instead focused on a member of the Ferengi species’s distant relatives, the Dopterians. As Odo leaves, Lwaxana commands Bashir to tell her everything he knows about the station’s security chief, and it becomes apparent that Odo has caught the ambassador’s eye.
In Ops, Chief O’Brien struggles to force the Cardassian computer system to work, as it has a tendency to argue with his suggestions, to gives its opinion, and even on occasions to overrule O’brien requests. With the help of Anara, the chief tries to operate the computer manually, but continues to have trouble. The problem is so bad, O’brien explains to Commander Sisko, that he is seriously considering completely overhauling and replacing the computer, a procedure that would take around two to three years to complete. Sisko employs his dry humor, but O’Brien is clearly too frustrated. Sisko allows him to do what he must.
Just then, Bashir and the other three ambassadors arrive in the turbolift, having insisted on seeing Ops. Commander Sisko is forced to make conversation, but saved when a mysterious probe comes through the wormhole. The ambassadors interject a bit during the analysis, as Lojal assumes Dax is only a young woman without the necessary experience and Vadosia seems intent on being involved in what may be first contact with a new species. However, Bashir and Sisko are able to stand them down. Sisko assures them there will be a briefing later.
Meanwhile, Lwaxana finds Odo in the security office and flirts heavily with him. She is fascinated by the idea of “being” with a shapeshifter. However, the constable is visibly disquieted by her advances. He pretends to hear a com signal, and leaves in a hurry.
O’Brien and Dax interface with the probe, and the chief finds that the station’s computer is cooperating surprisingly well. However, the probe’s computer system is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. After a while, Anara finds the probe is made out of a type of corundium alloy when suddenly the computer says it’s completed an analysis much earlier than expected. O’Brien and Dax come over to see that the probe is just a powerful computer – no communications or science modules, or hint of its origin or mission.
Meanwhile, Odo passes by the group on his way to Sisko’s office and complains to the commander about Lwaxana’s advances (like a Wanoni tracehound), but Sisko is unable to help him. He suggests he handle the matter “delicately.” As he leaves, Lwaxana manages to catch up with Odo despite his attempts to avoid her, saying she’s reserved a holosuite with Quark for a picnic. Odod says he’s not available and tries to re-enter the turbolift, but she follows him in. Intent on having a picnic with him, she says she will send for her picnic basket. He finally goes on a rant about how different he is, but she ignores it. Before they reach their destination, however, the turbolift stops abruptly as the station’s systems begin acting up. Dax attempts to beam them out with the Ops transporter, but something causes it to malfunction. Lwaxana happily says “alone at last.”
Odo cannot shapeshift out due to exposed electric circuits running through the turbolift’s positioning mechanisms, so he is forced to put up with Lwaxana while the chief attempts to remedy whatever is going wrong. Odo tells Mrs. Troi that he would prefer to pass the time quietly, however naturally Lwaxana isn’t happy with that (while also noting she tends to be attracted to quiet men) and starts telling Odo about the time she was held captive on a Ferengi ship along with her daughter. Odo begins to seriously consider risking the exposed circuit…
In Ops, Bashir begs Commander Sisko to relieve him of his escort duties. Sisko refuses, telling the young officer that he himself had to do the same and in fact Curzon took a perverse pleasure in giving him the unwelcome duty of escorting important guests… until the day Ben punched one of them for trying to force a young ensign into his quarters. Sisko ends the discussion by warning Bashir not to hit any of them, since he won’t be as forgiving as Curzon. Chief O’Brien then tells Sisko that he’s having a problem with the computer… or rather, he isn’t. As strange as he admits that it sounds, O’Brien claims the computer seems nicer somehow, ever since he downloaded the information from the probe. Additionally, every time he leaves Ops, a new problem comes up – as if the computer wants to keep him busy.
“Station log, supplemental. Odo and Ambassador Troi remain trapped in turbolift four. As of yet, we have been unable to ascertain what is causing the station’s computer to malfunction.“
Sisko meets with Dax and Kira in Ops and they attempt to come up with an explanation for what is happening. Dax hypothesizes that the information in the probe might be a type of sentient non-biological lifeform. O’Brien suggests it’s not malevolent, as it’s not doing damage, so he suggests uploading the probe’s files back to the probe. However, Sisko and Kira realize that it may be time for Odo to regenerate, meaning he will revert to his liquid state unless they can get him out of the turbolift. When O’Brien attempts to re-download the information into the probe, the lights go dim and the station shuts down.
In the turbolift, Lwaxana finishes talking about her life and asks Odo if he wants to talk about himself for a while. Although it takes a while for him to open up, Odo starts to tell her about how he began his life being studied by a Bajoran scientist as he learned to become self-sufficient. He then begins to tell the Betazoid that, after that, he tried to fit in by entertaining people at parties, which is why he hates parties so much. Lwaxana tells him that, if he goes to one of hers, she promises everyone will be there to entertain him. Odo finds that, despite his initial reluctance, he is starting to appreciate Mrs. Troi’s company. However Odo is also starting to feel pain, as he tries to hold off his need to regenerate.
Meanwhile, O’Brien has come up with a plan to distract the lifeform that has taken over the station; as he slowly tries to cut it off from the station’s systems, Sisko, Dax and Anara give the computer increasingly complex commands. The plan seems to be working, but something goes wrong and the system overloads. A fire erupts in one of the corridors, where Bashir is escorting the ambassadors to their quarters. They are trapped.
Breaking through the doors sealing Bashir and the ambassadors in the corridor will take longer than expected, so Sisko and Kira work on it. In Ops, O’Brien comes up with a plan. Thinking of the lifeform as a puppy, he realizes it thrives on attention and begins to “build a doghouse,” although Dax has no idea what he is talking about.
As Odo begins to lose his ability to hold his shape, Lwaxana can see that he is in pain, yet he turns his back toward her and refuses to show his weakness. He tells her that he’s not ashamed, it’s just a part of himself that he’d rather keep private and no-one (other than the Bajoran scientist) has ever seen him like this. Just then Mrs. Troi holds forward her hair, revealing it to be a wig. Odo turns around to see Lwaxana with her real black hair tightly pinned up, telling him that no-one has ever seen her like this. Odo assures her that she looks fine, but Lwaxana tells him she looks ‘ordinary’, something she’s never cared to be and she herself changes who she is.
Odo tells Lwaxana that she isn’t at all like he expected, and Lwaxana gratefully accepts the compliment and kindly offers to take care of him. Finally trusting Mrs. Troi, Odo transforms into his liquid state and houses himself in a fold in her dress.
Kira and the others continue to try to get into the corridor while O’Brien prepares to set his plan into action. He sets up a special program through which all station commands can be performed, transferring the “puppy” into the doghouse. Satisfied to be at the center of the action, the lifeform returns the station to normal.
As a result, Sisko and a team finally manage to enter the corridor where Bashir and the ambassadors were trapped, and the fire-suppression systems begin to work. After being briefly thought dead, Bashir and the ambassadors emerge from a conduit, sooty and disheveled but completely uninjured, with the ambassadors’ opinions of Bashir considerably changed, having been quite humbled by the experience. Meanwhile, Odo and Lwaxana finally emerge from the turbolift, shape and wig restored. Odo thanks Lwaxana for her company, telling her that can’t have been what she intended for their picnic. Lwaxana assures Odo that all that really matters on a picnic is the company, and promises him they will meet again.
Sisko asks O’Brien how he resolved the situation, and he explains he isolated it into a subprogram (but not sent back to the probe). Surprised he suggests keeping it around, O’Brien assures him it won’t bother them and he’ll give it attention. Sisko tells him to “keep it off the furniture.”