A distress call goes out from a Federation outpost near the Klingon border. The USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, responds. Starbase 18 lies in ruin. There are no survivors. And there is no clue as to who is responsible for the attack, until Captain Pike's brilliant science officer discovers a means of retrieving parts of the station's log. Lieutenant Spock has detected signs of a unique energy signature, one that he believes is Klingon. There are unsubstantiated reports that the Klingon Empire has made a technological leap forward and created a cloaking device – code-named Black Snow Seven – that can shield their ships from even the most advanced sensors. The destruction of the base and the unique energy signature that remains prove that the Empire has succeeded.
For generations the Orions have been known as pirates, operating at the margins, outside of legal conventions. A proud and powerful race, the Orions were once a major force in the sector, and they have been using the tension between the Klingon Empire and the Federation to rebuild their power. Captain Pike is charged with trying to foster cooperation between the Orions and the Federation. A distress call from an Orion vessel offers him the perfect opportunity. But the Orion ship lies in disputed space long claimed by the Klingon Empire, and crossing it could be the spark that sets off an interstellar war.