Responding to a distress call from a stricken Talarian vessel, an Away Team from the U.S.S. Enterprise discovers that the ship is manned by five teenagers — one of whom is human. While treating them, Dr. Crusher finds that the young human shows signs of severe abuse. The boy, called Jono, will not communicate with anyone among the crew, and responds to Picard only upon learning that he is a captain. The boy requests that Picard return him to Endar, the Talarian father who raised him. Fearing for the boy's safety, Picard refuses.
Starfleet reveals that Jono is actually Jeremiah Rossa, an orphaned human member of a Federation outpost presumed dead in a battle ten years before. His human grandmother, a Starfleet admiral, is anxious for his return, but Troi fears readjusting to the human lifestyle could be traumatic for him. When Picard asks Troi to work with the boy, she reminds him that since Talarians respond only to male authority, he must be the one to help Jono.
At that moment, Endar reaches the U.S.S. Enterprise and demands the return of Jono. Picard accuses the alien of abusing the boy. Endar denies the charge, telling Picard that he rescued the boy and raised him as his own following the battle in which Jono's human parents were killed. Picard allows Endar to see Jono, but refuses to surrender him to the alien. Endar then threatens war and announces that additional Talarian ships are en route.
When Data reveals that Jono is at the age of "decision," a Talarian right of passage at which he becomes a man and is free to make his own choices, Picard decides to let Jono choose his own fate. The boy is shown pictures of his parents and a message from his grandmother. The memories they bring forth disturb Jono, but he calms down and exhibits some very human characteristics while sharing a banana split with Wesley in Ten Forward.
Later that night, Jono sneaks into the sleeping Picard's room and stabs the Captain in the chest. Shocked by the boy's actions, Picard summons him to his sickbed for an explanation. Jono grudgingly reveals that he hoped his action would condemn him to death, thus preventing him from having to make the agonizing choice between his human family and the father who raised him.
On the bridge, Riker refuses to give Endar the boy, claiming that he is being held in custody as a result of his attack on Picard. As Endar prepares to fire on the U.S.S. Enterprise, Picard enters the Bridge, accompanied by Jono. He announces that he is returning the boy to the only home he has ever known — with Endar.