The series follows the adventures of the crew of the Federation starship Enterprise commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. In this episode, Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher learns to manage a science team, and in the primary plot, focusing on the Starfleet's Prime Directive, Data helps a young girl on a troubled planet.
Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher is put in charge of a science team to help further his studies to become a Starfleet officer as the Enterprise surveys an area of unexplored planets that are undergoing severe geological changes. Crusher is much younger than the other officers and his authority is challenged; one team-member, Davies, rejects Crusher's request to run a time-consuming scan, leaving Crusher floundering. Meanwhile, during their explorations, Lt. Commander Data has received a primitive radio signal from a young girl on one of the planets. Knowingly violating the Prime Directive, Data makes contact with the girl, who he learns is named Sarjenka and using a home-built radio system. Data continues to converse regularly with Sarjenka over the course of the month.
When Sarjenka reports that there are frequent earthquakes on her planet, Data decides to report this to Captain Picard, hoping they would be able to find a way to save her planet. Picard sympathizes with Data's case, but sternly orders him to cease communication with Sarjenka to avoid any further violations of the Prime Directive. Meanwhile, Crusher has reported his poor progress to Commander Riker. Riker stresses that Starfleet training is both about responsibility and authority. Riker commends Crusher for his past records of responsibility, but urges him to command authority on the science team. Crusher returns to the team and requests the planetary scan from Davies in a more authoritative manner. Davies agrees without hesitation to do it.
This planetary scan proves to be key to understanding the geological instability of the planets, and Crusher's science team prepares a means of correcting it using the Enterprise's systems. Data receives another signal from Sarjenka, who is now calling for help as the volcanic eruptions threaten to wipe out her home. While her family escaped to caves in nearby mountains, Sarjenka stayed behind with her radio system in hopes Data would come to help. Picard recognizes they cannot ignore the cry of help from a child, and orders the Enterprise to Sarjenka's planet. He allows Data to beam down to take the girl to safety while they execute the process; running out of time, he takes her back to the Enterprise as the crew safely restores the planet's geological system. Sarjenka is taken on a brief tour which ends with the Sickbay, where Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pulaski, under Picard's orders, anesthetizes Sarjenka and wipes the memories of Data and the Enterprise from her brain. Data returns the sleeping girl to her home, now safe, leaving her with a "singing stone" that Dr. Pulaski had given her while in Sickbay.