At a whorehouse in the middle of a barren land, a powerful man named Rance Burgess (Fredric Lehne), accompanied by thugs, approaches the madam, Nandi (played by Melinda Clarke), demanding to see a woman named Petaline (Tracy Leah Ryan). When Nandi denies the presence of Petaline, Burgess' thugs drag out Petaline, who is visibly several months pregnant, before Burgess, who extracts a DNA sample. He tells her he will return for his child if his test on the DNA proves the child to be his, threatening to cut it out of her if need be.
Aboard the space vessel Serenity, Companion Inara Serra receives a distress call from Nandi, who it is revealed is a good friend of hers. After Nandi requests Inara's help, Inara goes to Captain Malcolm Reynolds. She explains that Nandi and the prostitutes who work in Nandi's brothel are not Companions, and are not protected by the Guild. After she relates their plight, Reynolds agrees to assist Nandi, but declines Inara's offer of payment for the deed. After Serenity lands near Nandi's ranch, Jayne Cobb takes advantage of the hospitality of the women there, while Shepherd Derrial Book administers to some women who wish him to pray with them, and Dr. Simon Tam goes to examine Petaline, who will give birth soon. Reynolds gets to know Nandi, who explains the poverty that Burgess enforces on the locals.
Seeking to size up his opponent, Reynolds, along with Inara, attends a public event attended by Burgess, not informing him of his alliance with Nandi. Reynolds speaks with Burgess, and even examines the high-tech laser gun that Burgess' carries with him. Reynolds ultimately confirms Nandi's assessment of Burgess. After Reynolds and Inara depart, Burgess receives confirmation that he is the father of Petaline's baby. Returning to Nandi's ranch, Reynolds offers to evacuate the area with Nandi and her people, rather than face "a monster who thinks he's right with God" and who won't back down after only a single thrashing from some temporary help, but Nandi refuses to leave her hard-earned property and way of life. Reynolds, who admires her stubborn streak, reluctantly decides to stay and accept the challenge of defending the ranch.
As the Serenity prepare for an attack by Burgess and his forces, Serenity second-in-command Zoe Washburne has a tense conversation with her husband, pilot Hoban "Wash" Washburne, in which she insists that they will have a child in the near future. Petaline goes into labour, with Inara, Dr. Tam and his younger sister, River Tam, at Petaline's bedside. Nandi and Reynolds also spend time together, during which Nandi inquires about Reynolds' relationship with Inara, and relates her own past, which includes the Companion training she shared with Inara on the latter's home world, Sihnon. She says that Inara was in the running to become house priestess of House Madrassa when she suddenly left, without explanation, to travel among the Alliance worlds. Nandi had left before then, however, straining at the restrictions of Companion life. She moved to this border world and assumed control of the whorehouse from its previous owner, who kept the employees there addicted to drugs, and in so doing, she improve life for the girls. Mal and Nandi gradually move toward sex, pausing only when Nandi says "I ain't her", which Mal deflects without directly acknowledging her implication of his feelings for Inara.
Back in town, one of Nandi's girls, Chari (Kimberly McCullough), reports to Burgess on Mal's preparations, after which Burgess rallies his men, proclaiming women's ordained place as submissive servants to men, which he demonstrates by making Chari kneel before him.
The next morning, Reynolds tries to explain his night with Nandi to Inara, but Inara calmly tells him that there is no reason to be embarrassed about his sex life, and also thanks him for comforting her friend. Nonetheless, Inara subsequently sobs deeply in private, and Nandi realizes that there was more to Inara's feelings than she let on.
Burgess's men attack the ranch, and a battle ensues, with the Serenity crew joining forces with the ranch's residents to fend off Burgess's forces. On board the Serenity, Wash and mechanic Kaylee Frye trap some of Burgess' men, who invaded the ship, though Wash realizes that in so doing, he himself has been cut off from the bridge, preventing him from responding to Reynolds' call to join the battle. As Petaline gives birth, Chari lets Burgess inside. He quickly storms into Petaline's room, taking her newborn son. When Nandi tries to foil the kidnapping, Burgess, fatally shoots her in the abdomen. He is pursued, however, by Reynolds, who captures him and drags him back to the ranch, where Petaline, holding her son, whom she has named Jonah, executes him. Petaline tells the remaining thugs to leave, and orders the traitorous Chari to go with them, as she no longer has a place there. Following a funeral for Nandi, Serenity departs.
Back on the ship, Inara reiterates her gratitude that Reynolds was able to comfort Nandi on what turned out to be her last night, but Reynolds can only regret his failure to save her. As Reynolds tries to broach the subject of his and Inara's unacknowledged feelings toward each other, Inara muses about how Nandi created a family, and how that kind of shared strength and love makes people never want to break away. She then informs him that she will be leaving Serenity.