Fourteen years ago, on Vashti, a Romulan relocation colony, a young Romulan runs through the center of town, stopping just in time to see Picard beam down in his best Professor Hammond cosplay. He’s greeted by worried colonists, and attempts to allay their fears. He visits a religious house of some kind, where this boy happens to be staying, and speaks to the leader. The boy, Elnor (Ian Nunney), asks what Picard has brought for him, and the answer is a copy of The Three Musketeers. The group’s leader, Zani (Amirah Vann), tries to shoo Elnor away, telling him that Picard doesn’t like children, but Picard – not used to “the way of absolute candor” – reassures Elnor that her is fond of him. The Sisters of the Qowat Milat have been helping place the refugees on this planet. Elnor is one of said refugees, and Picard promises to help find a “more suitable place” for him.
That night, Picard reads to Elnor from The Three Musketeers, and the following day, teaches him some fencing basics. Picard gets a call, tries to dismiss it, and then stops fencing suddenly and says, “What do you mean ‘Synths have attacked Mars’?” Of course, Picard has to leave immediately, and Zani questions what this development will mean for the future of their mission. Picard is adamant that it must continue, and assures them that he’ll be back soon. And send his apologies to Elnor for leaving so soon.
Present Day: La Sirena is at warp, and Agnes Jurati is bored. She tries to engage Rios is conversation, but he just wants to read his book. They’re interrupted by Raffi, who just noticed that they’re no longer en route to Freecloud. Rios says that Picard needs to make a stop at Vashti.
Picard, meanwhile, is with the Hospitality Hologram, visiting a recreation of his study. The Hospitality Hologram is part of the basic hologram package, FYI. Raffi storms in, followed by Rios, and eventually Jurati. Vashti is in a sketchy sector of space, with a serious power vacuum. A warlord call Kar Kantar got his hands on an antique Bird of Prey, and is the major player in the area. Rios assumed Picard knew this when he asked to go there. Oops. Plus, Vashti is a “hotbed for the Romulan Rebirth movement.” But Vashti is also where the Qowat Milat – Romulan warrior nuns (!!!) – are based. They’re not assassins and you can’t hire one; They have to choose you based on the worthiness of your cause. They’re main teaching is “The Way of Absolute Candor” – Total communication of emotions without any filter between thought and word, entirely counter to much of Romulan culture. Raffi intuits that the loss of Dahj is bringing up memories of Elnor, but reminds him of their old motto: “One impossible thing at a time.” But Picard knows he may never pass this way again, and he must go to Vashti.
On the Artifact, Soji is arranging pixmit cards while watching a holo of an old interview with Ramdha, in which she discusses Ganmadan or The Day of Annihilation – annihilation for all life, everywhere – which will brought on by Seb-Cheneb, The Destroyer.
La Sirena‘s arrived at Vashti, there’s a planetary defense system – an impenetrable shield of orbital drones. Raffi is trying to get clearance, and dropping Picard’s name doesn’t work anymore. This many is not used to not being a big deal. Rios suggests that he make a monetary gift.
Picard beams down to Vashti for the first time in fourteen years, and things have certainly changed. He attempts to great the villagers with no response, he notices some Romulans wearing armbands with logos that we can assume are for the “Romulan Rebirth Movement”, and he even walks by a restaurant displaying a “Romulans Only” sign. Picard arrives at the nunnery, greets Zani, and begins to make his appeal. Just as Elnor (Evan Evagora) stumbles into the room.
Soji visits Ramdha in the medical bay, interrupted by Narek (Harry Treadaway). Soji feels responsible for Ramdha’s outburst and near-suicide, but, “When she looked at me, I felt seen… even though she didn’t like what she saw.” Narek says that he sees her too. At dinner, Soji tells Narek that he has a hard time trusting him. He has no rank, no uniform, and he goes anywhere he wants. She thinks he’s Tal Shiar, and he denies it, of course, just like a Tal Shiar agent would. He insists that doesn’t know what happened to Ramdha’s ship, but he might know someone who does.
Claiming he wants to show her a Borg ritual, Narek leads Soji to the ventilation return. They take off their shoes, and slide and dance across the floor. Then start making out. Narek thinks this is the perfect time to tell her that Terran passenger lists are public record, and there is no record that she was a passenger on the ship she claims to have arrived on. “Are you calling me a liar?” When he doesn’t answer, Soji starts to storms off. Until he reminds her that he “might” be able to get those data files she wants.
Raffi has been monitoring planetary communications on La Sirena, and someone on the surface recognized Picard. She wants him out of there ASAP, but he’s not ready to go yet. And to make matters worse, Kar Kantar’s ship just showed up on their sensors.
Zani brings Picard up to speed on colony business, and he’s distraught over the state of things; It all could have been so much better. “I allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.” And this mission? It’s desperate. Another rescue, if he’s not too late. Zani pointedly tells him that it’s not too late to rescue Elnor. They never did find a “more suitable place” for him, so he’s grown up training with the Qowat Milat. But, as a man, he can never truly be one of them.
Encouraged by her words, Picard approaches Elnor, and tells his story, from Data to Dahj. (Sidebar: Elnor has never seen a cat – I feel so bad for him.) Elnor, however, it still hurting from fourteen years ago. Picard left him alone, and he “see[s] no reason not to do the same.”
Rejected once again, Picard’s ready to leave, but the next transport window doesn’t open for another seven minutes. That’s enough time to start some trouble. So, on his walk back through town, he pulls down that “Romulans Only” sign and sits down at a table at the restaurant. The waitstaff ignores him and the clientele stare. Until he’s approached by Tenqem Andrev (Evan Parke), a former Romulan Senator. He was there was Picard addressed the Senate to propose the rescue mission, but things did not turn out as promised. Andrev accuses Picard of having an ulterior motive: to “scatter, confuse, and divide” the Romulan Empire.
Andrev’s cronies toss Picard a sword – which is definitely not a fencing foil (or epee or sabre) – and force him into a duel. Of course, Picard is trying to fence with it. After a few clashes, Picard throws the sword down, refusing to continue. Elnor appears and says, “Please, my friend, choose to live.” Andrev advances on Picard once more, and Elnor spins through the air and makes a quick, clean slice through Andrev’s neck, decapitating him. Picard is horrified. Elnor announces to the crowd that he’s sworn himself to Picard as qalankhkai, and any other challengers will have to go through him. Picard takes over the speech, apologizing for the failings of the Federation, and his own. One of the crowd pulls a disruptor just as Picard and Elnor disappear in a transporter beam.
As soon as they materialize on La Sirena, Picard lays into Elnor – that man did not need to die. If Elnor is going to serve as qalankhkai, he will follow Picard’s orders. He introduces Elnor to Raffi and Jurati, and finally explains that a qalankakai will only bind themselves to a “lost cause.”
Narek is awoken by his sister Narissa (Peyton List), who is still annoyed at his lack of progress. While she is only interested in insulting him, he starts asking questions: Why does Soji feel so connected to Ramdha? What happened when the Borg attempted to assimilate the Shaenor? Why did the Romulans “lose their minds”? Narek insists that he’s on track. The goal is to kill them all, but they can’t do that until they find out where Soji came from. But Narissa wants him to remember: Soji was sent to this Cube for a reason, and she is The Destroyer. He has one more week to get the job done.
Picard and Elnor didn’t get back to the ship fast enough; The Bird of Prey has arrived and fired on La Sirena. It’s trying to force them into the planetary security net. Rios activates Emmet, the Tactical Hologram, but he’s not much help. A third ship appears out of nowhere – with no ID and no transponder – attacking the Bird of Prey. Together, they manage to cut off one of the nacelles. But the mystery ship is damaged and heading towards the security net. The pilot is asking permission to beam over, and Raffi manages it just before the ship is destroyed. It’s Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), bloodied and battered. She manages a snarky, “You owe me a ship, Picard” before collapsing.