Benny awakens with a terrible hangover to find herself aboard the space liner Empress, which is returning galactic dignitaries to their homeworlds after successful peace negotiations with an alien war queen who has mended her ways. Iris Wildthyme has gone her own way after bribing a steward named Karter to see that Benny makes it safely to Ronnos Minor. However, the ship is rocked by a series of explosions, trapping Benny in an isolated passenger compartment with an Ice Lord Grand Marshal Sstac and his female adjutant, General Azzar. In the confusion, the Colgarian ambassador and his wife are killed, and Benny and Sstac are exposed to fumes from the crystals which enable the Colgarians to pass their memories on to the next generation.
The ship’s hull has been breached, and much of it is on fire. Since Benny and Sstac have no protective suits, they must wait in the passenger lounge while Azzar and Karter clear a path to the bridge and activate the sprinkler systems. Azzar concludes that the peace negotiations were a sham and that the war queen sabotaged this ship to destroy her enemies; even if this is not the case, many of the races affected by the tragedy will believe it to be. Karter and Azzar reach the bridge, and Karter, unable to isolate the controls he needs, activates the sprinkler systems throughout the whole ship. He and Azzar then assess the damage to the liner, and Azzar concludes that the shuttles are inaccessible. As Azzar sets to work repairing the liner’s communications, Karter sets off to fetch Benny, hoping that, as an archaeologist, she can help him dig through the wreckage to the shuttle bay.
Sstac and Benny find themselves reliving the memories of the Colgarian ambassador and his wife, Asnabi and Mosjana, but this is only a minor inconvenience at first. More seriously, when they leave the lounge to join Karter and Azzar, they find that the water from the sprinkler system is leaking into the damaged parts of the ship and causing further structural damage, and part of the deck collapses, injuring Azzar and apparently killing Karter. Benny and Sstac try to circle around and reach the bridge via the ship’s lifts, but the lifts are also damaged and they get stuck between floors. Worse, the Colgarian memories are beginning to overwhelm Benny and Sstac’s own personalities, and it’s becoming clear that the couple’s constant arguments were far more serious and violent than they’d seemed before the accident. Their marriage was arranged by their families, and when the ambassador neglected his wife for his career, she turned to other lovers. When the ambassador learned that she had become pregnant by another man, he reacted violently. Now Sstac is reliving the ambassador’s memories, and he nearly kills Benny before she manages to snap him back to a sense of himself.
Sstac and Benny climb the lift shaft to the bridge, only to find that Azzar has piloted the ship into a collision course with Ronnos Minor and destroyed the comms system after sending a mayday accusing the queen of treachery. Even though females have traditionally been excluded from the warrior caste, Azzar is a staunch traditionalist, and by sending this message she hopes to provoke another “glorious” war. However, Sstac is overcome by Asnabi’s memories once more and attacks Azzar, believing that she is his wife’s lover. Azzar cannot bring herself to attack her Grand Marshal, even in self-defence, but she does punch her fist through the flight controls, electrocuting herself and locking the ship on its current course. As Sstac recovers from the onslaught of memories, he and Benny realise that Asnabi killed Musjana’s lover and her unborn child. Nevertheless, despite their mutual hatred, Mosjana and Asnabi still loved each other, though each was afraid to admit it to the other; now, dead, they will never know how the other truly felt.
Sstac and Benny then discover that the wreckage blocking the path to the shuttle bay has been cleared away, and the working security monitors reveal that Karter survived the collapse of the deck -- and that he’s been busy looting the remains of the ship ever since. Karter admits that he is not really a steward, and that the ship’s destruction was not an act of war or propaganda after all, but a distraction; Karter’s partner in crime simply miscalculated and was killed in the explosions, which caused far more devastation than he originally intended. Sstac and Benny pursue Karter to the shuttle bays and try to catch him off guard by pretending that Benny has once more been possessed by Musjana’s memories, but the plan goes awry when Sstac really is possessed by Asnabi’s memories once more. Karter flees in the last remaining shuttle, leaving Benny and Sstac to their fate.
As the ship’s atmosphere seeps away through a hull breach, Benny and Sstac are overcome by the alien memories, allowing Asnabi and Mosjana to admit to each other how they really feel at long last. Benny and Sstac then pass out from oxygen deprivation, but some aspect of the Colgarian life force keeps them alive until an Ice Warrior rescue team arrives in response to Azzar’s mayday message. When Benny recovers, she tells the Ice Warriors everything, thus ensuring that the allied forces will know that it’s Karter and not the war queen who is responsible for the deaths of their delegates. Benny returns to the Braxiatel Collection, but although she has no trace of Mosjana left in her mind, she still feels as though she has a connection to the dead Colgarians, and to Sstac.