While surveying nearby star systems for M-Class planets, Sisko and O'Brien locate a planet that already supports a colony of humans. They transport to the surface, and learn that none of their equipment functions — a duonetic field seems to be preventing any E-M activity. They are discovered by two colonists, Joseph and Vinod, who explain they have been stranded on the planet ever since landing ten years ago. None of their technological systems have worked since. Sisko and O'Brien are taken to meet the rest of the group, including Alixus, who is Vinod's mother. Alixus calls their attention to how well the group has done without technology. She expresses pride for their community and confirms that, even if a rescue party arrives, she will never leave.
Back on the station, Kira and Dax notice that Sisko's Runabout, the Rio Grande, is not responding to their hails. Meanwhile, Sisko asks for any technological assistance that may help him restore contact with the ship, but Joseph explains that all such materials were thrown away when Alixus recommended they abandon their dependence on technology. Sisko and O'Brien are then asked to the bedside of a woman dying from the bite of a local insect. O'Brien suggests adapting their combadges to the energy of the duonetic field in order to make contact with the Rio Grande. To Sisko's shock, Alixus pulls him aside and tells him she will not allow any talk about technology.
Kira and Dax locate the Rio Grande — flying aimlessly through space — and set course for the ship in a Runabout. Meanwhile, Sisko and O'Brien join the others at work in the fields, where they discover one of the colonists has been imprisoned in a metal box for stealing a candle. They are shocked by this harsh method of "discipline," but Alixus defends her views. That night, one of the women, Cassandra, visits Sisko with the apparent intention of seducing him. Rebuffing her, he immediately confronts Alixus, who admits sending Cassandra to him. Suspicious, Sisko questions Alixus about how she conveniently managed to end up on a planet that so completely supports her philosophy of life without technology.
Sisko continues to work, but learns Alixus is rationing the water because the colonists failed to win him over. Suddenly, Alixus announces that the sick woman has died, and O'Brien was caught trying to make his equipment function. Because Sisko is O'Brien's commanding officer, she declares he must spend time in the metal box as punishment.
Later, a parched but defiant Sisko meets with Alixus, who promises to give him and the entire colony water if he will only adopt their ways. Sisko silently refuses, returning to his metal prison instead. A frustrated O'Brien searches the area, and finds a hidden box containing working technological equipment. He returns to the group with a now-functional phaser, releases Sisko, and reveals he has found the source of the artificially-created duonetic field. Realizing she's been caught, Alixus admits to creating the situation that has kept them there. Her people turn against her, now knowing the truth, but they ultimately elect to stay. Kira and Dax finally make contact with Sisko and O'Brien, and Alixus and Vinod transport to the Runabout with them, no longer welcome in the society they created.