After finding traces of Acamarian blood at a looted Federation outpost, Picard leads the crew to Acamar III. There, he learns that the responsibility for the attack on the outpost lies with the Gatherers, a thieving band of renegade Acamarians who split off from their culture 100 years ago, following centuries of battles between rival clans. When Acamar's leader, Marouk, expresses her desire to reintegrate the Gatherers into her now peaceful society, Picard offers the services of the Enterprise to find the bandits.
The search leads to a Gatherers camp in the Hroni Cluster, where the pack leader, Brull, agrees to meet with Marouk to discuss her proposal for amnesty. During the meeting, however, Marouk's young servant Yuta kills an elderly Gatherer from the Lornack clan named Volnoth, though she makes it appear as if he suffered a heart attack. Dr. Crusher soon discovers that Volnoth was murdered by a microvirus specifically engineered to prove fatal to his system.
Despite Brull's interest in Marouk's proposals, he insists that they must meet with the Gatherer chief, Chorgan, before any final decisions can be made. En route to Chorgan's hideout, Riker is drawn to the enigmatic Yuta, who claims to desire freedom, but alludes to the fact that her path in life has already been determined. Adding to Yuta's mystery, Riker learns that she serves Marouk not by command, but by choice.
Although Chorgan is at first violently opposed to talking with Marouk, Wesley Crusher is able to convince him that it would be in his best interests to do so. While Marouk attends a meeting on the Gatherer ship, Riker learns that Yuta was responsible for Volnoth's death and has killed others in the Lornack clan — whose surviving members include Chorgan. Knowing that Yuta is attending Marouk's conference with Chorgan, Riker beams aboard the Gatherer vessel.
Riker arrives just in time to prevent Yuta from killing the unsuspecting Chorgan. Yuta proclaims that she is only seeking vengeance for the massacre of her clan, the Tralestas, by Chorgan's clan. She explains that her grandfather, the only other survivor of the attack, altered her cells to make her touch fatal to the Lornacks, and that she used her position with Marouk to get close to the last remaining members of the Lornack clan. When Yuta makes another attempt to touch Chorgan, Riker is forced to destroy her with his phaser, thus ending her mission. The peace talks, however, are saved.