"Listen," said White. "I've been in this gig a long time. I've fooled plenty of crews. You don't need fancy credentials or theoretical mechanisms in this line of work—my continued survival should be proof enough that my way works."
"These are smart, sophisticated humans," Lime pointed out. "They've adapted to an environment far from their homeworld—few luxuries, constant danger, very little physical contact inside their suits. I don't think you can rely on them to be nostalgic for a few minor festivals."
"Just trust me," said White.
"Under the circumstances," Lime noted, "that's pretty ironic advice."
Yellow glanced at her map. Off to Admin to swipe the card again. She supposed it was good that the ship insisted everyone confirm their identity. She'd heard rumors back in the fleet that some ships weren't so careful, and let aliens take them over as a result. Really, who would be so foolish?
As Purple walked by on his way to tinker with the oxygen system, Yellow fumbled through her wallet for her card. This was harder than it looked, because she had a bunch of miscellaneous items in there as well. A picture of the moon in orbit, her student ID card from when she was back at the academy. Captain Green had told her to throw them out with the rest of the garbage, but there were few enough connections to Earth that she thought she should keep one. And then there was...a carefully-folded note?
Cautiously, Yellow unfolded it. It had been typed on a computer that looked like the one aboard ship.
The puny human that's afraid of Electrical is Red
The ghost haunting the reactor is Blue
The deep horror of the void of space
Is slightly less horrible with you.
Yellow paused, re-reading it a couple times. Then she tore off to the cafeteria to call an emergency meeting.
"Someone killed Blue!" she yelled, once all the survivors had gathered. "They must have known he would be a ghost!"
"What?" Green asked, and Yellow passed around the note.
"Are we sure you didn't do it?" asked Purple. "You were just standing there in front of the card reader without doing anything."
"I was reading the note someone shoved into my wallet!"
"Did you see a body, Purple?" asked Lime.
"Of course not," said Purple. "I would have reported it."
"Then Yellow probably didn't do it, right? If she was standing at the card reader the whole time."
"I guess," said Purple skeptically.
"I don't think we have enough to go off yet," said White. "Let's skip voting."
The crew did so, but it didn't make Yellow feel any better. Someone had not only killed Blue, they'd been brazen enough to brag about it anonymously. Who could have done such a thing?
Yellow fumbled with the wires. Connect...pink to pink. Why weren't they soldering together? Had she overshot?
Before she could try again, an alarm went off from the port side. Not the summons to an unscheduled meeting, but a real emergency. The reactor was collapsing!
At least she wouldn't be wasting progress, Yellow figured, because she hadn't managed to accomplish anything. Leaving the wires behind, she rushed over to the reactor and hurriedly applied her hand to the manual shutdown. In the periphery of her suit's vision, she noticed Black doing the same thing. So he was probably trustworthy, at least! A saboteur would have just pretended to help and waited for the meltdown. Unless he thought someone else was about to emerge and catch him in the lack of an act…
The reactor returned to normal, and Black gave Yellow a nod of acknowledgment; I saw you, I'll vouch for your assistance. If we make it through this alive. Since she was in the reactor anyway, Yellow went ahead and accepted some rerouted power, then returned to the wire task.
Of course, they were still disconnected. Just as she'd left them. But in between the frayed edges, there was another note.
The second on the left and the last on the right are red.
The last on the left and the third on the right are blue.
If we'd all been irradiated
I would have missed you.
So someone wasn't just monstrous enough to sabotage the reactor and jeopardize the entire ship; they hadn't even pretended to fix it. Instead, they'd taken advantage of the crew rushing to repair it by taunting Yellow, leaving a note in the room they knew would be empty.
It could be worse, Yellow thought to herself. They could have taken advantage of the emergency to murder someone on the other side of the ship, and figure no one would catch them…
And that was when she saw Purple's body.
"You have to admit, Yellow, this doesn't look good for you," said Green, once they'd gathered in the cafeteria. "First Purple accuses you of not swiping your card, then he dies?"
"It can't be Yellow," said Black. "She fixed the reactor with me. An impostor wouldn't have done that—and even if she was playing a long con, she wouldn't have had time to murder Purple also."
"Can we look at the access logs?" asked Yellow. "See who was on the computer?"
"I was monitoring the cameras in Security," Lime said. "I didn't see anything."
"Someone has been typing these." Yellow passed the new note around. "Disguising their handwriting."
"Was this accurate?" Red asked.
"Were those really the colors of the wires? Or were they just trying to distract you?"
"Oh, who cares," Green said. "We're running out of time, and White hasn't even said anything. Now that's suspicious."
And then they were all scrambling to point fingers at White. Even Yellow did, caught up in the frenzy, and a part of her grew nervous. Was this how crews disintegrated, small rumors causing former friends to turn on each other for no reason? But as White fell out the airlock, something colorful and pulsing and very inhuman oozed out from beneath her suit, and Yellow exhaled in relief. They were safe, for the moment.
It had been Green who led the charge on White, she noted, and Black had helped fix the reactor. The other impostor could only be Red or Lime! And the first note had talked about Red in the third person, as a "puny human." Was he clever enough to do that himself, as a misdirection? She decided to stick with him, just in case. Black and Green would be smart enough to figure out what it meant, if something happened to her.
"Why are you following me?" asked Red, as they rounded the corner in Navigation.
"I'm done with my tasks," said Yellow. This was an exaggeration, but she'd find time to swipe that stupid card eventually. "Just wanted to make sure you were okay. Safety in numbers, yeah?"
"Yeah," said Red, but he didn't seem to believe it.
The lights flickered and dimmed. "What was that?"
"Probably just a faulty bulb. It's not life-threatening."
"We should still fix it, though. Yeah?"
"And get trapped in Electrical?" Red panicked. "Are you crazy?"
Okay, whether or not he was an impostor, he really was afraid of that room. That didn't really narrow things down.
But before Yellow could respond, another emergency alert went off. Great.
"The oxygen is down!" Red screamed. "We're all gonna die!"
"Don't panic," said Yellow, "it'll waste your air. Come fix it with me."
"I can't see my map! It's too dark! Aaaah, I'm gonna suffocate on this stupid ship."
While Yellow couldn't blame him, she was still annoyed. They could still survive, if they just kept their heads. "This way," she said, striding towards the oxygen room. It was too dark to see if Red was following her, but she couldn't waste time waiting for him.
But when she made it into the oxygen room, there he was, still panting. "Okay, okay," he said. "You and me, let's do this."
"We don't need both of us here," Yellow reminded him. "You have to go to the admin room."
"I'll get lost!" Red yelled. "You do it!"
If he wasn't an impostor, Yellow decided, he was a really incompetent crewmate. What if she left him alone and he refused to fix his part of the machine? It was too dark to know whether the other room was staffed already.
But the air was getting low, and it seemed she had no other choice. Yellow stepped into the hallways—and was almost relieved to see a dead body waiting in the corridor. At least that would restart the clock.
"Black was dead in the hall near oxygen," she said. "I think it's Red, I think he took his time following me and killed Black before he could fix the oxygen."
"Yellow?" asked Green.
"What's on your back?"
"On my back?" Yellow tensed. Had she been infected with some gross alien slime?
Lime placed a gentle hand on Yellow's shoulder and removed the note affixed to the back of her suit. Instead of "Kick me" or something similarly highbrow, it was another one of those notes:
Oxygenated blood is red
Blood after a suffocation sabotage is blue
The vents are a complex universe of wonder
And so are you!
"This is extremely creepy," said Yellow. "But it's definitely Red. He was the only one who had time to place this."
"Someone could have brushed up against you in the halls!" Red said. "It was dark!"
"It was dark," said Yellow, "because someone is too cowardly to go fix the lights!"
"Well, uh. Maybe Green could have just put it there right now?"
"Green is the one who got White killed!" Lime said. "I think you're just desperate and will do anything to save your own columnar joints."
"What?" Red asked.
"I've heard enough," said Green. "Let's vote."
Red died as he'd lived, screaming and panicking and raging about how it wasn't fair. But as he disappeared into the airlock, the body that fell away was human.
Which meant it was Lime. It had to be! But they couldn't call an emergency meeting until the button had cooled down, and Lime couldn't kill anyone else until her weapon had time to recharge. Whose interval was shorter? The three survivors stood in the cafeteria at a standoff, hands poised.
"Just tell me this," Yellow blurted. It would all be over soon, but she had to know. "What was with the poems?"
"I knew those wouldn't fool anyone, I knew it!" Lime said. Almost crowed, despite the circumstances. "White was an idiot and I should have just ignored her."
"She told me that we had to go for stealth. Forget about direct sabotage and try to win your trust by infiltration. Send love notes to remind you of your stupid Earth holidays and gradually hope you'd lower your guard."
"The impostor wanted you to send me Valentine cards?" Yellow laughed. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
"I know!" Lime said. "Back on Tivdrok, courtship rituals involve exchanging liquid nitrogen and presenting one's beloved with the scalps of their enemies."
"That sounds hot," said Yellow. "Well, or cold, the liquid nitrogen part."
"It is. But White figured you wouldn't appreciate it."
"I didn't appreciate having creepy notes left in my personal space either."
"Hey," said Lime defensively. "At least I tried to appreciate human traditions!"
"Hello?" asked Green, and it was only then that they'd noticed she'd been banging on the emergency meeting button for the past several seconds. "We're still in a war zone, here."
"Oh. Yeah," said Lime, sliding her weapon across the table. "Uh, no hard feelings, the reactor and oxygen sabotages were basically suicide missions anyway. Good job fixing those, by the way."
"Was this whole conversation just a distraction to prevent her from killing us?" Green asked Yellow.
Yellow almost said no, but then thought better. "If I say 'yes,' will you do me a favor?"
"What do you want?"
"Let's not eject Lime. Keep her in our custody and have her brought to Earth for diplomacy. After all this, she at least deserves to see what actual human holidays are like."
"Can I see some actual human romance, too?" asked Lime. "I mean, if it's not intimidating poetry and it's not liquid nitrogen, I don't know what that leaves."
"Don't push your luck," said Yellow, but she was laughing. "One thing at a time."