While traveling to a planet that has been struck by an asteroid, resulting in a massive dust cloud choking the atmosphere, the Enterprise encounters an anomaly that turns out to be a spaceship carrying a traveler named Rasmussen, who identifies himself as a historian from the future. He claims to have come back in time in his mysterious vessel to study the Enterprise, particularly Captain Picard. Troi senses that he is hiding something and Worf is wary of giving him access, but Picard gives Rasmussen permission to study them while the crew sets to work trying to repair the devastated planet before a lack of oxygen and sunlight begins to kill the population. Rasmussen gives the crewmembers lengthy questionnaires tailored to their areas of expertise and asks to examine their "primitive" equipment. When LaForge comes up with a strategy to save the planet using the Enterprise's phasers and deflector dish to ionize the atmosphere, Picard asks Rasmussen to give him a hint whether this is the correct strategy - the planet's entire population will die instantly if it fails, though nearly all of them will die anyway if the crew does not try. Rasmussen refuses to intervene on the grounds that Picard is trying to manipulate Rasmussen's own past, so Picard goes with his instinct to act rather than do nothing and orders LaForge and Data to put the plan in motion. LaForge remains on the surface, knowing that he will die if they miscalculate but believing the plan has a better chance of success if he calibrates from the planet. The ionization succeeds in clearing the atmosphere of the asteroid's dust and Rasmussen prepares to depart, declaring that it is a thrill to have witnessed history, but the crew gathers at his vessel to announce that they have noticed many items missing and will not let him leave without a search. Rasmussen insists that only Data be permitted on the vessel, since he will not permit whatever he sees to compromise the future. But once Data is on board, Rasmussen reveals that he is from the past rather than the future and has come hunting for technology to steal, with the android now being his crowning achievement. However, the crew has already remotely deactivated all equipment on board Rasmussen's ship, and Rasmussen is apprehended while the vessel returns without him to its already programmed coordinates.
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