Blue paced the Admin room. It was one thing to feel like you were talking to walls, but another thing to literally walk into walls any time you tried to get from point A to point B!
"Everything all right?" came a voice from behind him.
Blue jumped, flinching to see Pink come into view. "Sorry," he muttered. "Just-uh-didn't see you."
"No problem," said Pink. "Need to swipe your card? I know that can be a pain."
"I was looking for the oxygen room, actually," said Blue. "My chart said it should be right through here."
Pink laughed. "You have to go around. There's no door from here to there-although there is another emergency override if the oxygen fails."
"Why would they put that here?"
"I don't know," said Pink. "Guess we'll have to ask whoever built this piece of scrap when we get back to Earth."
"Well, thanks," said Blue. "I'll just-"
Before he could finish the sentence, time stopped. The Skeld's microporters flashed, and he found himself back in the Cafeteria.
"White's dead!" Brown cried. "I found her body in Shields."
Impostors. Sure, there were legends about ghost ships and alien monsters, back planetside, but nobody expected to find a body in the middle of a mission.
"Orange was with me in the engine room," said Green. "So it couldn't have been her."
"Which one?" asked Brown.
"Orange," said Green, pointing to the bright and cheerful crewmember. "You know, our friend."
"No, I mean which engine room? Upper or lower?"
There are two engines? Blue thought. What kind of scrap were they flying, anyway?
"Uh, the one sort of...on the bottom," said Orange.
"There's no gravity in space," said Cyan.
"Lower! Lower engines!" said Green. "This is serious, okay, we need to figure this out!"
"Blue was with me in admin," said Pink.
"Okay, good," said Orange. "Did you see Pink doing any tasks, Blue?"
"I...don't remember," Blue admitted. "I was mostly focused on trying to do my own stuff."
"We're running out of time," said Black. "If we don't know anything, let's skip."
Nobody wanted to accuse anyone else, and the meeting ended in silence and suspicion.
The others dispersed, a few tearing off towards the Medbay, and others rushing to storage. Blue slowly checked his map. Take the right hallway to Weapons, turn, and then O2 would be on the left. No, on his right...
It wasn't fair. How come the microporters were so good at getting everyone back to the Cafeteria, but he could barely walk in a spacesuit? He clumsily maneuvered himself into Navigation, using one hand to support himself on the wall.
"Bet you wish you were a ghost," said Pink. "And could just float through."
"Ghosts aren't real," said Blue.
"That's what they said about impostors, too. And I don't think White just dropped dead on her own."
"So her spirit is, what? Just following us around making rude gestures?"
"Probably doing the tasks she would have done while alive."
Blue snorted. "First ghosts are immaterial and invisible, now they can fix the ship? Who comes up with this stuff?"
"As long as there's life on the ship, humans will defend it, dead or alive. That's what I've heard, anyway. It's easier for the dead ones who don't have to be afraid of walls. Or murder."
"Well, I don't suppose you could put me out of my misery, then?" Blue asked. "I have a bunch more things to patch up before this thing can fly, and at this rate, I'll be out the airlock before I make it to the reactor."
"You shouldn't joke about that kind of thing," said Pink.
"Touchy." By then Blue had found the garbage chute, mostly by poking everything on the wall to see what reacted, and watched as the debris evacuated into space. Some of it even looked like Earth trash, leaves or windblown papers, though how they would have lasted on the Skeld he didn't know. Was that what had happened to White's body? De-suited, released into the vacuum? "Well, if a vote looks like it's going to be close, you could at least-"
The microporters flashed again, and they were back in the Cafeteria. All of the crew-except for White and Green.
"Cyan?" Orange asked.
"What?" she stammered.
"You found the body?"
"Oh!" she blurted. "It all happened so fast! I walked into Electrical, and something smelled off-I didn't see it-I couldn't tell you where-but my beeper lit up-so I just pressed the button."
"I was with Green in Storage just before," said Black. "She couldn't have gone far."
"Oh yeah?" said Blue. "Maybe you actually killed her!"
"Can anyone else vouch for Black?" Pink asked.
"Yeah," said Orange. "They left the cafeteria together, I left them in admin."
"Okay," said Black. "I think Cyan killed him. And then her trigger finger was itchy, so she accidentally hit again, except her weapon was lowered, and she hit her button by mistake. She probably didn't mean for the body to be found that quickly."
"That's ridiculous," said Blue.
"What?" said Pink. "You think Black is lying?"
"No, I mean, what kind of aliens would build a weapon that they can't tell apart from their beepers? That's terrible design."
Orange laughed. "It might be, but I think that's what happened here."
"No," said Cyan. "I don't know who it is, I think maybe Black, but it's not me! I know it's not me!"
But time was running out. Blue couldn't help but feel bad for Cyan, either way. Either she was an easily-scared human, or an impostor almost as clumsy as he was. But it was safer to go along with the crowd, not risk standing out. He voted for Cyan, and so did the others.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to report that. But you'll never win, you monsters, it doesn't matter how many of us you kill..."
Monsters? Had they gotten it right, or hadn't they? Cyan's body tumbled through space, and the external monitors conveyed their summary; she was an impostor. Had been.
Blue shuffled toward the Medbay, numbly letting the scan wave over him. Still human. Not impostor. Not a ghost, either. "White, Green, can you hear me?" he whispered. "Fix this ship and get us home."
"Hello?" someone called from outside.
"Whuh?" Blue jumped, for a moment much higher than the 3'6" the scanner displayed him as. Ghosts could talk? Why didn't they just accuse their murderers, then?
But it was only Pink, and he didn't seem particularly ghostly. "Is everything okay?"
"Fine, fine," said Blue. Just talking to ghosts on a deadly ship, like a totally normal astronaut would do. Quickly trying to change the subject, he babbled, "What do you think Cyan meant about monsters?"
Pink stared at him through the visor. "Why did you go into space?"
"You must have had a reason for signing up. Beyond tripping around and making a fool of yourself." Pink managed to make even the teasing sound friendly.
"Because...it's space!" Blue said. "I mean, it's cool!"
"You like matching wires and swiping cards?"
"I like stars," said Blue. "And nebulae and cosmic rays and plasma!"
"And that's worth being on a ship with a finicky oxygen system and lights that keep failing? To say nothing of the potential of aliens trying to kill you?"
Blue gave an awkward shrug. "Someday, you know. We'll be on all those planets like Polus and the others. I want to be part of paving the way for that. Even if I don't live to see it."
"And how well do you expect that to work? The conquest of Polus."
"Well, they probably have deadly lava pools and inclement weather, and if the architects are like the Skeld's, everyone will need two maps and a flashlight to get from point A to point B," Blue admitted. "But that's life."
"I mean, how do you expect Earth species to fare there?"
"We'll need spacesuits and terraforming tech and everything. But it'll work out. We'll have pets and everything coming with us, it'll be a whole biosphere."
"Think about the history of Earth. Warfare, conquest, invasive species, terrible things. And that's just one planet! Is it any wonder the rest of the galaxy doesn't want humankind anywhere close to it?"
"If we're so terrible," Blue said, "why did you come into space?"
Pink stared at him again, as if frozen. Then the alarms went off.
"The oxygen!" Blue yelled. But he knew where to go this time! "You go north, I'll go south."
Without giving Pink time to argue, he took off, racing through the Cafeteria and down the hall towards Admin. There, in the corner, he punched in 16384. The keypad registered his success, but the alarms were still ringing. Every breath could be his last. What if Pink had run into something along the way?
There wouldn't be time, Blue knew, for him to run to O2 without the ghosts' shortcut. He'd used up half of the thirty seconds just getting to the corner of admin. Still, he ran. For White and Green and those who had come before. For the humans who might make it to Polus someday, never mind what Pink said. He sprinted through Weapons, and it took him a moment to realize he was only panting because of his burst of speed. The oxygen had been restored.
Okay. There was still that other chute to empty. Blue pulled out his trusty map-
And was yanked back to the Cafeteria, yet again.
"I found Brown dead in Admin!" said Orange. "He must have just used the south override, and then someone stabbed him!"
"That's impossible," yelled Blue. "I was in admin just now, I fixed the south override! There was no one else there."
"Okay," said Black. "So Blue found Brown after he'd fixed the override, stabbed him, and disappeared through a vent."
"What do you mean, a vent?"
"That's what you deny?"
"I know I'm innocent!" said Blue. "Pink and I were in the Medbay together, and I told him where I was going. He can confirm that."
"It's possible," said Pink. "Blue suggested that I go to the north, but I saw Black in O2 inputting the code before I got the chance."
"If I was an impostor, I would have just killed Pink there in the Medbay," Blue pointed out. "Much simpler than racing to an oxygen alarm where I know everyone else will be."
"But you two have been spending a lot of time together," said Black. "A kill of him would look pretty bad for you."
"It's getting late," said Pink. "What are we gonna do?"
"There's four of us left," said Orange. "Skip the vote. Then we split up in pairs to finish their tasks. If anyone goes missing, that's when you call another meeting."
"What tasks do you still-" Black began.
"Quick!" Orange yelled. Time was running out. They all hurried to abstain, and the Cafeteria fell silent.
Black hurried away from Blue's direction, as if scared of him. Orange hesitated, then took off after her.
"Guess you're stuck with me again," said Blue.
Pink smiled. "You're not so bad."
"What tasks do you have left?"
"Just plotting a course in Navigation," said Pink.
Blue followed him through the Weapons room. "Remember to set it for inhabitable planets and not desolate rocks. I don't care what the impostors think-this will all be worth it some day."
Pink sighed. Annoyed? Amused that his words had resonated with Blue? Apologetic? Behind the visor, there was no way to be sure. "I want to show you something."
"I've read the star maps."
"No, over here." Pink crouched low against the wall. "I think this is what Black was talking about. How the impostors get around the ship without being seen."
Under Pink's touch, the loose screws holding the vent in place gave way. Probably another item the Skeld would need to have repaired. "No one ever told me about this!"
"It's a tough crowd in space," said Pink. "They throw you in and expect you to fend for yourself. Come on."
"What about your course?"
"It won't be long," said Pink, and he'd plunged into the vent before Blue could reply. Stay together, Orange had said-separation was suspicious. And part of Blue would have followed Pink into the unknown, strategy or no strategy.
Where the rest of the Skeld was janky and falling apart at the seams, the vents were beautiful-nothing to repair, unobstructed views of the world above. Even the microporters worked, beaming them from room to room instantaneously! "Whoa," Blue said. "Thank you, for-showing me this. You must really trust me."
"Blue," said Pink, his voice seeming to catch. "Of course I trust you. Who wouldn't?"
"It's just hard, you know, me being a klutz and everyone being paranoid." He tried to microport back to Weapons again, just for the thrill of it, but a wave of dizziness overcame him. There was a dull ringing coming from the ship beyond, and he felt like he was going to vomit up the Cafeteria's latest offerings.
"It's all right," said Pink, placing a bulky, suited arm around him. "I've got you."
Blue tried to wave him off, but only succeeded in producing the remnants of that afternoon's pizza. It came as little relief. The noise was still there. Couldn't Pink hear it?
"Ssh," said Pink, helping him to the floor. All his mistakes, all his clumsy running in circles, and now he couldn't even stand upright without waves of dizziness? Yet when Pink held him it didn't feel condescending. He really did trust Blue. But how...?
"Ionizing radiation," Pink murmured. "More painful for you than me, I'm afraid. Like I said, it won't be long."
"I don't understand," Blue stammered. It was easier to blame the radiation than his own refusal to put the pieces together.
"When Cyan was still alive I hoped we could win the normal way. Kill enough of you that we'd take control of the ship and seize it for our own fleet. But she didn't make it, and-well, I suppose I have you to thank. Your conviction that there were things worth dying for helped me see another way."
"If that's supposed to help," Blue said, "it really doesn't."
The reactor alarm was a distant buzz. Pink had known the other pair would not make it in time, either too reluctant to split up or stuck on the far side of the ship. "You could have killed me any time before. Why not?"
"You were right," Pink said. "Someone like you-uncoordinated, unused to the map-would have been more useful as a ghost. We killed off the faster astronauts first so they wouldn't fix the ship too quickly."
So even Pink saw him as dead weight, too. That shouldn't have hurt, not any more than the rest.
"If it's any consolation, I don't think ghosts can haunt a lost ship. You worked hard, but you can rest now."
"'snot just dying," said Blue. Finding the right words felt labored, like connecting wires in the dark. "There's things-worth living for, too. Shouldn't have had to come to space. To see that."
But we did, came Pink's unspoken reply, a squeeze of his suit. They both had, and when they looked back, they were both too tired to see any points they regretted. Maybe that was enough.