The U.S.S. Enterprise receives a signal from "The Children of Tama," an alien race that has no history of violence, but whose language has been deemed "incomprehensible" to humans. Hovering above an uninhabited planet, Picard and the crew hope to establish relations with the Tamarians. But while he and Dathon, the Tamarian captain, make several attempts to communicate over their viewscreens, neither can understand the other. Suddenly Dathon turns to him, armed with two daggers, and both captains dematerialize and are transported to the surface of the planet below.

Riker and the crew are dismayed to find all access to Picard is blocked by a field set up by the Tamarians. On the planet's surface, Dathon continues to offer Picard one of his daggers, but Picard refuses on the grounds that this could be an act of war. Dathon is friendly, however, and offers Picard fire against the evening's chill, allowing Picard to sleep. Hours later, Picard wakes up to find Dathon missing. He looks through his personal belongings to get some clue as to what makes the alien tick, but is interrupted by Dathon's voice and the roar of an animal.

Pursued by a large, shimmering beast, Dathon again offers Picard his dagger and this time Picard accepts. As the two captains struggle to communicate in order to fight effectively, Picard hypothesizes that the Tamarians communicate by example, and the proper names and places they cite are references to situations in their history. Picard is then able to begin to communicate with Dathon, and the alien responds enthusiastically to his efforts.

When Riker dispatches a shuttlecraft to the planet's surface to retrieve Picard, the Tamarians stop it by firing their weapons. Meanwhile, Picard and Dathon set about fighting the creature, but their efforts are interrupted by the U.S.S. Enterprise's continuing quest to transport Picard back on board. He momentarily dematerializes, and Dathon is struck by the beast. As the alien lies dying, Picard realizes that the situation of two leaders joining to fight a common enemy is part of Tamarian mythology, and suddenly understands that Dathon brought him to the planet specifically to fight the beast with him and begin relations between their societies.

The crew finally transports Picard back aboard, and he avoids war with the angry Tamarians by using what he has learned to communicate with them. In their own language, he tells them how their captain died and expresses his admiration for the man. The adventure behind him, Picard is left to wonder if he, too, would sacrifice his own life simply for the hope of communication with other beings.