Back aboard the Artifact, Soji awakens in bed with Narek, telling him she was having the same dream again. When he asks her to tell him about it; she wonders if he is genuinly concerned, or if he is just wondering how her mind works. He asks her why it can’t be both, wanting to know “every little thing” about her. She remarks that he thought she was an impostor, to which he backtracks and says she was “full of secrets.” She remarks on the irony of this coming from a Romulan, and notes the things he keeps from her – like his name, for instance, showing her knowledge of Romulan culture by remarking on how they only shared their “true name” with the one they gave their heart to. Narek instead asks about the dream, wondering if it was a random creation of her brain or an actual memory. Narek suggests asking her mother about it, as he knows she talks to her every night, much to Soji’s surprise. As he leaves, she calls out to him by the name she knows, to which he says that was not his actual name.
Aboard La Sirena, Agnes Jurati explains to Jean-Luc Picard that the injuries that Bruce Maddox had sustained on Freecloud were substantial, and that while the medication was enough to keep him stable, his heart “just couldn’t take it.” Picard can see it’s hard for her, to which she confirms it was harder than she could have imagined.
She remembers Maddox had told him that Soji was on the Artifact. When Elnor asks about it (apologizing for “in-butting,” as he puts it), Picard explains it was an abandoned Borg cube, and when the young warrior asks about Seven of Nine, Picard is emphatic the Borg were nothing like her at all. Jurati also remembers that Maddox said he had sent Soji and Dahj to find out the truth behind the ban on synthetics, wondering why he would send Soji there; Elnor also wonders how they knew she was alive. Picard admits they don’t, which is why they have to find out. Elnor is quick to see that Picard is not looking forward to it, and he confirms he is not, as his last visit to a Borg cube was not voluntary. Jurati knows that he had been assimilated, becoming Locutus of Borg, [as anything to do with the Borg] was [required reading] in her work. She points out that the Borg in that cube were separated from the Collective and under the control of the Romulans, wondering if that changed them. Picard, with a hint of contempt in his voice, snaps that the Borg couldn’t change, remarking how they “coolly” assimilate entire worlds, entire systems. “They don’t change,” he asserts, “they metastasize.” After Picard abruptly excuses himself, Elnor tells Jurati that Picard can’t see she was also haunted by something she would rather forget, and asks if he was “in-butting” again. “That time, yes,”, Jurati curtly replies, as she, too, leaves.
In his holodeck-study, Picard [brings up] the computer files on the Artifact, any treaty on the subject, and the Borg. As he scrolls through the pages, he sees two images of Hugh, both before and after his de-assimilation… before stopping on an image of himself as Locutus, putting a hand to his face where the implants had once been, still haunted over the events of what happened more than thirty years earlier…
Late that evening, Cristóbal Rios kicks a soccer ball around the transporter room, as Jurati comes out of her quarters. He apologizes for waking her, before noticing she has not been sleeping. Jurati asks him why he likes it in space, which she calls cold and empty, and wanting to kill him. He offers her a drink, remarking on how close she had been with Maddox, and offers to talk about it. She kisses him, remarking she’d never slept with a captain of anything before, before thinking on this “superpower” she has: sensing mistakes while she’s making them. She admits she feels hollow, hopeless, lonely… and afraid. She kisses him again, as Rio asks if it would help at all. Jurati admits it would help “for a few hours”, as she leads him by the hand to his quarters.
Aboard the Artifact, Narek enters his own quarters to find his sister, “Narissa Rizzo“, playing with his tan zhekran (tan chkran), telling her to hand it back before she breaks it. He refers to it not as a “toy”, but as a tool to help him think, and remarks he is making progress with Soji. He explains about her recurring dream, wondering why Maddox programmed her to dream. “Narissa” mockingly asks if she dreams about growing old with him and making “freakish little android babies”, and asks if he dreams of that too. To her disgust, she can see he has fallen in love with “it”, and tells him she is taking over the operation. Narek explains that every piece of [synthetic design] serves a purpose, so why give her dreams? “Narissa” believes that it’s simply a malfunction, but Narek believes it is intentional. Soji’s neural pathways were auto-heuristic, always seeking and forming more efficient connections, which has somehow given her an unconscious mind; when she dreams, she’s reconciling the two views of herself, human and synthetic, “bits of truth” coming to the surface. If Narek can get Soji to tell him about her dreams, he believes he can reach her memory engrams without triggering her self-defense programming, as happened with Dahj, and that she could lead them to their homeworld. “Narissa” asks if Narek intends to keep sharing her bed, “fidgeting” with her like he does his “stupid box”. Narek chides her for her impatience, saying that the key to opening a tan zhekran (tan chkran) was to understand what kept it closed, to move each piece ever so slightly, until the box reveals its contents.
Meanwhile, La Sirena is about to leave the former Romulan Neutral Zone and enter Romulan space, which is technically a breach of galactic treaty, but Rios sardonically says he has no problem with that, since Picard has a plan to get aboard a Romulan-controlled Borg cube crawling with Tal Shiar without authorization – or dying. When Jurati suggests using her scientific credentials, Picard tells her it won’t work: If the Romulans don’t recognize him the moment he steps off the ship, the Borg will. The way to do this, he explains, is the Qowat Milat way: being perfectly open. He explains that the Borg Reclamation Project maintains its independence by treaty, and if he can get Federation diplomatic credentials, the Romulans would be forced to let him meet with the project’s director or risk a diplomatic incident. When Rios asks why the Federation would do this for him, Picard replies that they’re not.
A visibly-intoxicated Raffi Musiker, a bottle in her hand, enters the bridge, demanding a bit of space so she can “sweet-talk” the Federation, which Rios [believes to be] a bad idea. Inhaling a bit of snakeleaf, Rafi contacts her friend Emmy, a captain at Starfleet Command, and explains she needs diplomatic credentials for Picard to visit the Artifact. Emmy comments she wishes she could help, but the Artifact was restricted to scientists only, plus the “Romulan angle” makes it tricky. Rafi understands, but comments on how awkward it would be when they arrive at the Artifact in approximately three hours. Emmy worriedly tells her to turn around, as going into Romulan space without permission is an act of war. Rafi knows this, and also knows that even if the Federation denied it, Picard is “so Federation, his face is probably still on the damn brochures”, which is why she was giving the warning, and asking to “do it proper”, with an official letter of credence. After a moment, Emmy agrees, “twenty-four hours, in and out”, before telling Rafi never to call her again. Picard and the crew applaud Rafi, before Rios helps her to her quarters.
Aboard the Artifact, Soji tells Narek she had the dream again, and meant to ask her mother about it, but fell asleep while talking to her. Narek asks if it happened often, to which Soji admits she is not sure. Narek, visibly uneasy, explains all communications from Romulan facilities are monitored, and all anomalies are flagged. He explains that each call to her mother lasts exactly seventy seconds, which Soji believes to be impossible.
Back on La Sirena, as Rios helps Musiker into her quarters, she asks how long he’s known her, and he says it has been “a while”. She explains about her son Gabriel Hwang, who is grown up, married, and expecting a daughter, before lamenting she will never know her grandchild. Rios, showing a more tender side, tucks Musiker into bed, remarking that “no one gets [all of it] right”, before taking the bottle out of her quarters and returning to the bridge.
Soji contacts her mother, talking about her dream, and asks if her father is there; “Mom” says he is [in his lab] and asked not to be disturbed. Soji believes something is wrong with her, which “Mom” believes to be overwork, suggesting she should lie down. Soji feels a sudden wave of exhaustion, and in an attempt to fight it, grabs a tool from her desk and stabs herself in the hand with it. The attempt is ineffective as her “Mom” once more tells her to lay down. Unable to fight it, Soji slips into unconsciousness. Shortly afterward, the call ends.
La Sirena approaches the Artifact, as Rios reads the letter certifying Picard as a Federation special envoy to the Borg Reclamation Project, limited only to meeting with the director, and only for Picard himself. As he sees the cube, Picard experiences flashbacks of his assimilation. Rios notes that they are not cleared to land, and that Picard is restricted to specific beam-in coordinates. Elnor is adamant that he should go with Picard, that his pledge overrules diplomatic credentials. While not looking forward to the trip at all, Picard insists that either he goes alone, or not at all. He tells Rios he will keep communications open, and makes clear to Elnor that he is to stay aboard the ship, no matter what. He holds Dahj’s pendant in his hand, as he looks back up at the Artifact.
Soji awakens, and suddenly begins rummaging through her personal belongings – pictures, diaries, drawings, even the pendant she wears around her neck. Her scanner indicates that the probable age of all of these items is only thirty-seven months. She hurls her scanner against the wall in frustration.
Picard beams aboard the Artifact, finding himself alone, and overwhelmed by his memories of the Collective. As he suddenly begins to feel dizzy, he is grabbed by two Borgs. He thrashes against them, demanding they release him, before a voice explains they don’t want him to fall. Picard looks up to see Hugh, who says he did not believe until now that Picard was there, and welcomes him to the Borg Reclamation Project; while he doesn’t know why Picard was there, Hugh offers any help he can. Picard is relieved to see a “friendly face.”
Hugh understands Picard’s reluctance coming back to a Borg cube, the last place any former Borg ever wanted to see. When Picard asks how he can stand it, Hugh explains that the project needed a director, and as a Federation citizen, he could leave at any time, unlike the other “xBs” (as they call themselves) on the cube. He remarks that a new name could be the first step to a new identity, having [learned that lesson] aboard the Enterprise long ago. Hugh emphasizes that this place is the Artifact, not a Borg cube, and that Picard is not Locutus anymore. Picard explains he is looking for Soji; Hugh has a hunch that she is in danger, given that Picard had come all that way to find her, and that there was a “dashing young Romulan spy” who had arrived two weeks before pretending not to ask questions about her. Picard asks Hugh to take him to her.
In her quarters, Soji explains to Narek that none of her possessions are more than three years old, and that she was not able to explain it. Narek suggests the possibility of false memories being implanted, someone looking for something on the cube, and concealing it from her. Soji confesses she is scared, and Narek comforts her, suggesting there is a way to help: a Romulan meditation method called Zhal Makh. Soji knows it is taboo for non-Romulans, but Narek believes it is the best way to uncover what was going on.
Hugh guides Picard through the Artifact, showing him where the xBs [are brought] to recover after the reclamation process. Picard marvels at the idea of undoing assimilation on such a scale, and the fact it was being done by the Romulans. He watches as a former drone, missing an eye, undergoes facial reconstruction; the xB is brought to tears, seeing his nearly-restored face in a mirror. Hugh admits that the outcomes are far from ideal, but Picard believes he is doing good there, showing what the Borg are underneath – victims, not monsters. Nonetheless, Hugh explains, xBs remain the most despised people in the galaxy, just as enslaved as before, except this time their queen is a Romulan. Picard sincerely thanks Hugh for showing him around; Hugh knows that [no one] understands the work better than Picard is, and that he would make an ideal advocate for free Borg. Consulting his computer records, Hugh sees that Soji has called in, and takes Picard in to try and find her.
Back on La Sirena, Rios wakes Rafi and offers a cup of coffee. He also remarks that Picard has checked in, revealing Soji is alive, and that Rafi owes him two strips of latinum because she had bet they would find her dead. Rafi wonders why the Tal Shiar kept her alive, given that they know what she would look like, after having killed Dahj and gone after Maddox on Freecloud. She suspects that they need something from her, and that gets her to thinking: “What would the Tal Shiar need from a synth?“
Narek leads Soji through the Artifact, twisting the tan zhekran in his hands, as they approach a meditation chamber. Narek asks a sub-commander if the room is free; the sub-commander replies in Romulan that Zhal Makh was not for “round-ears”, to which Narek replies in the same tongue that a sub-commander’s rank bars “were not for idiots”, and that he risked losing them. As they enter, Narek tells Soji to remove her boots, explaining that he evaded her question on whether he cared for her or not because it was too dangerous outside to show her. In there, he feels safe enough to be “vulnerable”, and reveals his true name to be Hrai Yan (Ryan?). He tells her to begin at the yut makh; Soji is confused, as she thought that meant “closing” rather than “opening”. Narek explains that the journey along the path of the Zhal Makh begins with the closing of the eyes, “a journey into the center of the mind’s most intimate space, where deepest truths were hidden” – her dreams.
Soji explains the dream begins the same way; she hears the rain against the window, calling out for her father. When Narek asks why, she says she was scared, perhaps of the thunder. As she walks the path, “Narissa” watches through a security camera as Narek continues to ask questions: How did Soji feel when he didn’t respond? She says she felt lonely, abandoned. She reaches the lu shiar, “lifting the eyes”, and Narek asks what she sees out the window. She is unsure, as she never looked that way before. He encourages her to “ground herself in details”, and tells her the key to the Zhal Makh is that she was in control of her mind. She says she sees darkness outside, perhaps trees. She turns to the qlam wath, the “unfolding”. She enters her father’s workshop, seeing him inside, but what he’s working on. She can never see past the orchids, and when she enters, her father calls her name, and she awakens. Through that door, Narek explains, is the truth. He tells her that the goal is Vri Glam, the center. Her unconscious holds the key to the truth, and he encourages her to take the steps.
Meanwhile, Hugh and Picard enter Soji’s quarters, finding photos and other items scattered around the room; Picard realizes she is about to discover who she really is, and asks Hugh to find her. Hugh is puzzled when all indications are that she is no longer aboard the cube, which should be impossible… unless, Picard points out, someone has concealed her.
Soji continues walking the path, saying she can see the orchids lit by a skylight; Narek tells her that her father will shout at her, but tells her to keep moving, no matter what. Her father turns, but she can never see his face; behind the orchids, she can see who she believes to be herself, in pieces “like a doll”; through the skylight, she can see two red moons, “dark as blood”, and surrounded by lightning. In the security room, “Narissa” congratulates her brother for finding out the truth, and sets out to find a planet with two red moons and constant electrical storms. Soji is confused as to why she was on a workbench, to which Narek tells her she is not real, and never was. While she desperately calls his name, an anguished Narek exit the room and leaves her locked inside with his tan zhekran, which opens to release a radioactive cloud. Soji suddenly begins smashing through the floor; as Narek and the sub-commander watch, she tears a hole open and jumps through it.
Soji suddenly reappears on Hugh’s computer monitor, showing her between two levels of the cube, and moving very fast; Picard realizes she has been activated, and tells Hugh to take him to her immediately. Narek is also in pursuit, identifying Soji’s employee number and saying she is hostile, and “extremely dangerous”. As Picard and Hugh search for her, an xB identifies him as “Locutus”, just as Soji crashes through the ceiling. Picard identifies himself to her as a friend of her father, and shows her Dahj’s necklace, saying he knows what is happening to her. Hugh warns that a large number of Romulans are approaching, and shows them a way out.
Aboard La Sirena, Rafi reports that they are in trouble, and that Picard is not responding to comms. As Hugh guides them through the cube, Picard recognizes the room as the “queencell“; even though he had never been inside before, both he and Hugh know of it anyway from their time in the Collective. Hugh reveals a spatial trajector, a device the Borg obtained from the Sikarians, for use by the Borg Queen in the event of an emergency; it has a range of forty thousand light years. Picard contacts Rafi, and tells her to set a course to meet them at Nepenthe. As he turns around, Rios realizes Elnor is gone.
Elnor beams aboard the Artifact (??), quickly dispatching three Romulans holding Picard, Hugh, and Soji at gunpoint. Soji can hear more guards coming. Hugh confirms this, and reports the device is nearly at full power; he tells them to go, and he would keep the Romulans from tracing them. Picard tells Elnor the trajector will take them to a safer place, but Elnor elects to remain behind to cover their escape. Picard protests, saying he would not leave Elnor behind again; while Elnor admits he is glad to hear Picard say that, he knows the Romulans will destroy Soji if he can’t get her away. After a moment, Picard and Soji step through the trajector. Hugh needs only a few minutes to shut the device down and seal the room, and asks if Elnor can hold the romulans back that long. Elnor replies he does not need that much time, and tells Hugh to stay behind him. “Please, my friends, choose to live,” Elnor says, as the door to the queencell shuts.