In a runabout on a survey of star systems near the wormhole, Sisko asks O’Brien to take Jake on as an apprentice.
They find a planet giving off low-level plot contrivance particles. When they beam down, none of their technology works. They also find a thriving agrarian human colony, built around the empty hull of their non-functioning spaceship, which landed here 10 years ago en route to a different destination.
The colonists ask questions about Starfleet, sports, and fashion. The leader Alixus gives a speech about how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished on their own, without technology. She uses the language of personal agency (“Speaking for myself, I’ll never leave,”) but she also says “I’ll never want what we have in our community to change.”
Sisko, anticipating a short, pleasant say, cheerfully agrees that he and O’Brien will work for their meals.
In Ops, Dax is happily gossiping when Kira notices Sisko’s runabout is not responding to a routine hail.
Sisko offers O’Brien a summary of a manuscript left in his quarters; Alixus has written that technology has made humans soft.
Joseph, who was the engineer on the colony ship, now describes himself as “the last convert” to this new way of life. He also seems to serve as the community’s medic, because he’s called to the bedside of a woman dying from an insect bite. O’Brien speculates the medkit on the runabout could cure her easily, but Alixus discourages “talk like that,” and mildly but pointedly suggests that Sisko change out of his Starfleet uniform. “It gets hot in the fields.”
In Ops, we learn that a Romulan vessel has spotted the runabout traveling at warp with nobody aboard. Kira and Dax head out to recover it.
Vinod, who is Alexus’s strapping son, compliments Sisko’s handiness doing fieldwork. Sisko (still in his uniform) says he and his brothers tended the vegetables his father grew. O’Brien tells Joseph that Keiko (a botanist) would probably love it here. They seem to be getting along fine, but then they see a man beign released from a sweatbox, where he had been confined for stealing a candle.
Speaking mildly and with warmth, Alixus welcomes the repentant Stephan back to the community. Sisko, realizing what he’s up against, orders O’Brien to find a way to technobabble his non-functioning communicator to get it to work despite the plot contrivance particles.
That evening, a young woman shows up in Sisko’s compartment, offering an oil massage and hinting at more. Sisko confronts Alixus, accusing her of sending Cassandra to soften his opposition to her philosophy. Sisko intuits that it may not be a coincidence that the colony ship ended up marooned on a planet that perfectly fit Alixus’s anti-technology theories. Alixus responds by informing her son that Sisko will on guard duty tonight, and the next morning at breakfast cheerfully pressures him into working his day shift in the fields.
Kira and Dax find the runaway runabout. I think the writers are trying a bit too hard to recapture their banter during the dogfight sequence in the three-part season opener. At this point in the story, nobody is in any immediate danger, and using a tractor beam to slow down another ship seems like a pretty routine action, the kind of thing a character would just tell the computer to do, not an opportunity for a daring action sequence that requires Dax to draw on an Old West rope trick she learned from a Hopi.
Back on Planet Happy, we learn that Meg, the woman suffering from the bug bite, has died. O’Brien is publicly scolded for the crime of wasting time. Joseph notes that O’Brien was motivated by a desire to save Meg’s life, and Alixus uses his mild backtalk as evidence of how dangerous the ideas of these outsiders are. When Sisko objects to Alixus putting O’Brien in the box, she says she’s putting Sisko there instead.
He goes in the box, if not willingly (the colonists have pointed sticks and they’ll clearly do whatever Alixus tells them). then with deliberation and dignity.
On the abandoned runabout, Kira and Dax reason that someone tried to destroy the ship by sending it into a star, and missed. They start backtracking.
Sisko, looking feeble, is brought before Alixus. She offers him water if he will change out of his uniform. Instead, Sisko stumbles out of her office, and shuts himself back in the box.
O’Brien asks Joseph for help tracking down the source of the plot contrivance particles. Joseph looks uncomfortable, suggesting he knows more than he’s willing to tell. He won’t help O’Brien, but he permits O’Brien to knock him out so that he won’t get in trouble for not turning him in.
O’Brien finds a blinking gadget in the forest, but before he can open it up, Vinod starts shooting arrows at him. O’Brien outthinks the lad and overpowers him.
After a fadeout he reappears in the settlement with a working phaser, announcing he shut down the device that was generating the anti-technology plot contrivance particles.
Alixus admits she invented that device, and faked the emergency that led them to land here. She offers a speech defending the community they have built, and the effect it has had on its people, and she agrees to go back with Sisko, to be held accountable for her actions.
Joseph tells Sisko he’s not sure whether the colony will keep using the anti-technology device, or whether they will stay in touch with the rest of society, but the final scene shows the colonists carrying on.