While Riker and the Enterprise respond to a Romulan ship's distress call, Picard, Troi, Geordi, and Data are traveling in a long-range shuttlecraft known as a Runabout. Suddenly, while in a conversation, everyone except Troi freezes in mid-motion. Seconds later, things return to normal. Baffled, she attempts to describe the experience to the others when she inexplicably becomes frozen in time herself for over three minutes. Then, almost without warning, the starboard nacelle cuts out from lack of fuel, and instruments show it has been in continuous operation for over 47 days. Picard then notices some rotten fruit and his fingernails quickly grow half an inch. Data discovers they are in a temporal disturbance where time is moving approximately 50 times faster than normal. Their vessel is surrounded by dozens of irregular temporal fragments, and inside each, time is going at different rates. They head around the fragments and eventually find the Enterprise, but are shocked to discover it trapped in the center of a huge disturbance, face-to-face with a Romulan Warbird, which is firing a disruptor beam at the Enterprise, whose shields are half-raised. However, the entire scene is like a photograph — everything is frozen in time.
The four officers adapt their emergency transporter armbands to generate skin-tight forcefields which will isolate them from the temporal fragment's effects. Picard, Data, and Troi then beam onto the Enterprise's bridge, where everything and everyone around them is motionless.
Picard enters the transporter room and finds three Romulans were being beamed aboard by Worf. Picard and Troi join Data in Engineering, where he discovers that the source of the power surge is a warp core breach in progress — the beginning of a massive explosion that is, in fact, expanding. Time is not really frozen as they first believed, but moving forward at an infinitesimal rate, and Data estimates that the explosion will consume the Enterprise in just over nine hours. Suddenly, Picard experiences severe emotional changes, laughing uncontrollably, becoming dizzy, then panicking. Geordi immediately transports the three back to the Runabout, where they determine that the captain experienced a form of temporal narcosis. Geordi beams over with Data and Troi to the Warbird's engine room, where they see several Romulans frozen in the middle of an Evacuation Alert, trying to shut down a power transfer originating from the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Picard watches from the Runabout as the Enterprise, now in normal time, explodes from the warp core breach, then moments later, comes back together. Back on the Warbird, the scene goes backward as well, then freezes right where it began. Geordi, Troi, and Data are stunned.
As they look for more clues, the strange Romulan male attacks Geordi, who goes into neural shock, dying, until Troi removes his armband, freezing him in time. The other two return to the Runabout with the being, who appears to be totally alien to their time continuum. The being tells them that he was attempting to rescue a nest of his species' young, which mistakenly was placed by them in the Romulan core, causing the engine failure. When the power transfer from the Enterprise made contact with the nest, the ruptures in time were created. Before Picard learns anything else, the alien fractures in a kaleidoscope effect and vanishes.
Data adjusts his tricorder, causing the aperture to make time reverse itself to a point before the warp core breach occurred, then go forward again. Data is then attacked in Engineering by the Romulan woman, really another alien being, who inadvertently prevents him from stopping the power transfer. He attempts to protect the warp core, which delays the breach long enough for Picard to take control of the Runabout from a console and maneuver it directly into the transfer beam, interrupting It. The vessel explodes, and the Warbird and the alien disappear in a kaleidoscopic effect. Troi is able to rescue Beverly, Geordi is saved, the warp core breach has been prevented, and Picard attempts to explain everything to a confused Riker.