Pirates liked the romance of the fog that filled their bone-ship's bridges, but Alicia McCammon hated the high humidity and it's source, the paradoxically warm bridge on her Skull Queen. Her hair wasn't the source of her dislike. She wore it in ginger dreadlocks, twisting snakes roving in a five-foot radius from her captain's chair in the low-gee environment. But, the beads of sweat that ran down her neck, the smell of human bodies cooped in a ship lacking showers, the salt staining the black bone grating that constantly found the most inconvenient body crevices, and all the myriad annoyances drove her crazy on the month-long flights to the Oort cloud. Too bad pirates like Mabotu kept their haunts on the free rein asteroids. Sometimes the boredom of a solar bounty got to Alicia. The long stellar journey making it difficult to remember the excitement of the hunt when the Skull Queen closed on her prey.
Solar wind flicked over the alien skull's surface and the telepathic link between Alicia and the Skull Queen left ghost echoes flickering over her braids. The solo-ship -- a baby's skull, one-of-a-kind as far as Alicia knew -- coughed and sputtered into real-space. Splinters. The Skull Queen floated in the path of Jupiter's orbit, a long way from her quarry.
«Ten gee pressure. Carapace crack. Fizz.»
"Hold it together." Alicia's words to the ship were more a matter of her sailing on a solo-ship and not fretting about anyone overhearing her conversations with the Skull Queen and she found it easier to vocalize the emotions she used to calm the remnants of the alien. Her ship.
The Skull Queen bucked, unseating Alicia from her seat to crash against the bone floors. Blood, warmer than the air, dripped from her chin. The ship continued to shake, tossing Alicia against the edges of the bone cavity like panties in some fangled clothes dryer. It'd been a long time since she'd had clean clothes. Since she'd been on a station, let alone planet-side.
«Breath gone. Suffocate. Cloud of gas. Poison. Burn heart. Hear enemies laugh.»
Fear whispered like a storm. Its arms outstretched, wispy tendrils, parts of it the fog that filled the bridge, some of it her own fragments of dreams, mixing with those of the Skull Queen. She'd brought in pirates, hangdog merchants who had run when their Ponzi schemes unraveled, and black arms traders, but never felt the wash of fear magnified by the ship. Even in its heat, her flesh bubbled with goosebumps. This wasn't human trouble, Alicia knew how to deal with that, but fear of the elements.
She counted her breaths. One. Two. Three. Smooth interstellar space with the pale glimmer of stars lying around them like a blanket that stretches everywhere. Home. In between the stars.
«No. Pain like fire. River of flames. Scalding.»
Joined. Alicia became one with the ship. Her soul subsumed, her body a mere organic presence within its ghost. Her consciousness swirled within a tempest. The ship's memories. A small thought, almost disregarded, wondered at this, something that had never been discussed before by any other captain.
The memories -- splinters how old these things be -- were vast. Like the vision of space itself she saw surrounding them, but this was different, personal. She flailed, seeking herself, trying not to lose herself in the mind of the Skull Queen. The memories of the ship, a glorious body that could fly through space, burned in an atmosphere. Burned, while something outside of it stared in, toyed with it.
Alicia screamed. Living soul stronger than the ghost memories. She pulled its concentration to the present. To the solar wind pouring over the bone ridges. To the intense burn sizzling the bone shell.
She should not burn in space, near absolute zero in a vacuum. But, the Skull Queen felt a burn. That was what woke it's memories.
The ship's senses operated even though it was only a ghost presence. And out there, Alicia found the source. A laser repeater for a light sail. Space debris. Why couldn't anyone disable that source.
The ship, coughing and burning, shook as it tried to evade the laser. Photon reflections pushing them through space even though the Skull Queen wasn't a solar sail.
«Impossible. Burn. Burn. Suffocate.»
"No. Stay with me. You can't suffocate. It's just light. Stay with me. Concentrate." Alicia's thoughts merged with the ship and as if walking she pulled the ship one slow step at a time outside of the quarter-kilometer diameter beam and fell to her chair sweating and exhausted.
She expected the ship's memories to fade, a byproduct of her fear. Hallucinations. But, the thoughts called out to her. Her life forked into two like chromosone pairs. Her short blink of human life and eons worth of alien life. Duties unfinished.