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During a prolonged and stressful mission to monitor the ignition of a protostar from a stellar nebula, Wesley develops a psychological addiction to a holodeck program some of the more gifted children on the Enterprise have written.
This story is concerned with the pressures we place on our adolescents and how they sometimes resort drugs to help them cope and Troi's role as Ship's Counselor.
We open with Counselor Troi making a Log Entry as we see the Enterprise floating in a nebula of glaring oranges and yellows. She informs us that the Enterprise is on long-term mission to study the ignition of a proto-star in the nebula and that the ship has been on Yellow Alert for four days. The tension on the ship is quite high.
In her office, she is having a meeting with the rest of her psychology staff. Lt O'Kalta mentions that Wesley Crusher is under a great deal of pressure for one so young, and Dr Tierpa mentions that a number of the brighter children seem to be using the Holodecks quite a bit. In fact many of them seem to be using the same program, requiring a secret code to activate which the children seem to be passing amongst themselves - he fears psychological addiction is a possible explanation for the pattern of its use. Troi says she speak to Picard about Wesley and asks Dr Tierpa to keep an eye on the use of this holodeck program.
Later, Troi asks to make her report to Picard. She says that tension is mounting in the crew, but if the Yellow Alert lasts less than another four days, things should be all right. As she begins to discuss Wesley, she is interrupted by Data, who reports that the proto-star has begun its gravitational collapse. Picard ends the briefing.
On the Bridge, Data reports that the proto-star's collapse will produce unpredictable turbulence in the nebula. Furthermore, the temperature in the nebula will continue to rise, and the entire nebula may even ignite when the proto-star itself ignites. Geordi arrives and relieves Wesley, and Troi accompanies him off the Bridge.
She asks him how he's doing, but his pre-occupation is explained when a young girl name Lori meets them at the Turbolift. Troi bows out and Wesley and Lori go to the ship's park. Wesley confesses to being under a lot of pressure, and Lori suggests that they try a holodeck simulation that "all the kids are doing."
At the Holodeck, Lori enter the secret code and she and Wesley enter. The Holodeck reduces internal gravity until they are both floating in mid-air, and they find themselves in a sea of soothing, cool colors. Wesley declares that he could forget everything in here!
Lori returns to her family's quarters in a "hungover" daze. Her father and little brother, Danny, arrive, and her father sends Danny to his room so he can talk privately with Lori. He voices concern over her diminished appetite and the fact that she's skipping her classes. When she storms out of the room, he calls Dr Tierpa.
In Troi's office, Dr Tierpa reports an alarming number of calls from parents concerned about their children and this "secret" holodeck program. Troi authorizes Dr Tierpa to override the "secret code" and monitor the frequency of the program's use by the children and to try the simulation himself. Lt O'Kalta reports that he has noticed behavior in Wesley consistent with drug use, but is not sure of his authority in light of Wesley's Acting Ensign status. Troi agrees to deal with Wesley personally.
When she visits Wesley in his cabin, his mood swings from lethargy to depression to anger. And like Lori, he storms out of the room when Troi presses him about the holodeck program.
In front of the entrance to the Holodecks, Wesley warily activates the program.
Later, on the Bridge, seven days of straight Yellow Alert is taking its toll on the Bridge crew. When verbally attacked by Riker, Data offers to simulate tension by sweating and talking with an edge to his voice - if this would help. In the brief respite this offer produces, Picard asks about the threat posed to ship by the collapsing proto- star. Data reports that the danger is unpredictable, and when Wesley fails to respond to Picard's order to maintain their current distance from the proto-star, Picard explodes at him. He confines Wesley to his quarters for the duration of the mission and calls Geordi to the Bridge. When Troi tries to point out that Wesley is young, under a great deal of pressure, and only an Acting Ensign, Picard dismisses her from the Bridge. Geordi arrives just as the ship is rocked by a violent tremor, and as he approaches the Helm, the ship is even more violently rocked as the proto-star and the nebula ignite. Geordi is thrown into the Helm, and the his VISOR is torn from his head, leaving blood running from his temples. Picard calls for Dr Pulaski and orders the Enterprise to leave the vicinity of the new star. The ship's computer has interpreted the ignition of the nebula as a collision evenly spread over the entire surface of the ship, however, and has locked out Helm Control. Worf announces that an expanding shell of hard radiation given off by the proto-star will destroy the ship in less than nine minutes. When asked by Picard Riker says that only Geordi, or maybe Wesley, could unlock the Helm before the shell of radiation arrives. Unfortunately, since Wesley is not wearing a communicator, he cannot be located - he has not, as ordered, gone to his cabin.
Returning to the Bridge, Troi learns that Wesley cannot be found. She guesses he's in the Holodeck, but when Picard orders Worf to get "the boy," she overrides him, as Ship's Counselor, and she leaves to go get Wesley.
After observing Wesley in the Holodeck program for a moment, Troi overrides the privacy lock and shuts off the program. She finds him completely withdrawn and disoriented.
In the Sickbay, Dr Pulaski is working to save Geordi's vision. She wakes Geordi up so that he can help her, only to have him demand that she allow him to speak to the Bridge. Told of the ship's status, he requests that the Captain order Pulaski to take him to the Battle Bridge so that he can try to unlock the Helm and save the ship. Picard does so, and Pulaski acquiesces grudgingly.
Troi reports that she has found Wesley, and Picard orders her to take him to the Battle Bridge to assist Geordi.
In the Battle Bridge, Geordi races to save the ship while Wesley sluggishly acts as his eyes - Wesley sits at the Helm and describes the various locks and downed systems while Geordi tells Wesley how to re-route systems. When Geordi snaps at Wesley, who is only minimally responsive anyhow, Troi steps in and tries to soothe the situation. They finally, and at the last possible moment find a solution.
On the Main Bridge, Riker and Picard marvel that Geordi would have thought to use the Battle Bridge's more flexible systems to override the damage to and lock-outs of the Warp Control Systems. Suddenly, Geordi's Comm Voice is heard announcing that the Enterprise will be going to Warp in 3,2,1...
The Enterprise warps away just as the radiation shell is about to engulf the ship.
Much later, Picard, Troi and Wesley are in the Captain's Ready Room as Picard apologizes for putting Wesley under more pressure than he was ready to handle. Picard says, "There is a time for all things, and now is the time for you to be a boy."