A/N: Originally written for Space Swap 2021 on AO3 for GaleWrites.
TW for Body Horror.
For the Betterment of All
Red scrolled through his remaining tasks on his heads up display. The fumes from the engines were getting to him. He had to put the empty gas canister back into storage and then, ugh, start a download in Admin. Turning on his heel, Red made the winding journey back to storage. Black gave him a nod when she passed by in the hall. Red didn't pay too much mind. He crossed off "Refuel Engines" from his task list and tried futilely to find something to do that wouldn't require sitting around Admin for another twenty minutes. The last thing that he wanted was to stare at a screen. His head was throbbing.
The other options were to tackle some of the daily preventive maintenance on the fibre optic systems. Whether it was the heavy duty power cables or the data cables between the different stations, the Skeld always needed more than a little bit of spit and love to keep the wires from frying out early in the maintenance schedule.
He set the fuel canister down with a clunk. Pausing for a moment, Red arched his back and stretched while he continued to delay making any decision. Movement from the opposite end of storage caught his attention. Red felt his mood lift when he spotted a familiar green plant stalk pop up over the crates and- oh. It was just Lime.
His fellow crewmate breezed by without so much as a glance. Red pursed his lips and tamped down the disappointment. Lime was an oblivious jerk. And he wore the same hat as Red's friend even though Blue had started wearing the little plant stalk way before Lime had earned enough credits to buy his own from the MIRA acquisitions shop.
Now in an even more sour mood than previously, Red trudged down the corridor towards the center of the ship. When he reached the divot into Admin his spirits were immediately buoyed again. "Blue!" he greeted excitedly. She did a little hop in the doorway to keep from colliding directly into him.
"R-red, hey," she replied with an obvious flush even through her visor. The jolly little plant on her helmet bobbed with every twitch of her head. It was adorable.
Red danced to the side, a grin cracking on his own face when Blue mirrored his motions accidentally as well. "I feel like I haven't seen you all day," Red said. They both stopped rather than continue to step side to side. Red lifted a hand to touch her shoulder and dropped it quickly when he spotted White's helmet over her shoulder.
Blue cleared her throat and twisted her head, following his gaze. She let out a nervous laugh. "Been kinda crazy today. Lots of data transfers from HQ. White and I-" she emphasized their names to convey what Red already knew. They weren't alone right now. "-have been stuck in here for hours. I've gotta pull some more telemetry from, uh, navigation and oh-two. Then I might get the chance to sit for a minute."
It sucked that White was lingering in the background. Red chewed on his lip and tried to think the best way to say what he wanted without actually saying it. "Maybe I'll see you in the caf in a few then? We could grab a bite quick," he offered. He would love the chance to sit as well. Especially with good company.
"Dinner isn't for another three hours," White called oh-so-helpfully from their spot at the center table. "Even if we are starving."
Blue winced, a sentiment that Red shared. MIRA guidelines were written to promote camaraderie and prevent potential resource mis-allocation. They definitely weren't designed to prohibit any interpersonal private time. That was clearly just an incidental result.
"Can you make it till dinner?" Red asked, dropping his voice down low. "You didn't eat much at lunch." They had been late to breakfast, too. Both of them had been… preoccupied - guidelines be damned.
"I'll be fine," Blue said with forced chipperness. "I just need to sit. Get away from all the screen time."
Red tipped his head, not quite sure if he believed her. He mouthed "You okay?" to her. She nodded, the little plant on her helmet bobbing jauntily with the motion.
"Just another headache. It's already better now that I'm not looking at screens," she insisted. She'd had one when she woke up today, too.
"We need that telemetry," White called. A note of irritation had entered their voice. Blue bounced on her heels and gave Red one final pained look.
"On my way!" She slipped past Red, her hand squeezing his in the briefest of moments as she did. Red allowed himself a small smile before shaking his head. He needed to get back to his own task list.
White barely looked up when Red entered Admin, though there was an unmistakable tch that Red pretended not to hear. He sidled next to his fellow crewmate and jabbed the button to bring the downlink onscreen. His next few minutes were painfully long as he connected the clunky tablet to the computer. Once it was plugged in there was nothing to do but stare at the slow crawl of the download.
The taskbar blinked with every gig received. The Skeld's connection to the network was shoddy one moment and fine the next, so the blinking wasn't even consistent. Red turned away from the table to save his eyes the strain. The flashing light on top of the chemical fumes from earlier was just a bit more than he could handle right now.
Red leaned against the console and took a deep breath in. There was a shimmer to the edges of his vision. Symptoms he much preferred to ignore. He closed his eyes and maligned the fact that he couldn't massage his temples through the helmet. A migraine. Great.
"Feeling under the weather?" White asked in a way that was anything but sympathetic. They were suddenly uncomfortably close to Red. They put a hand on Red's shoulder. From someone else - like Blue - it might have been comforting. Instead Red only felt weaker, exposed.
Red gritted his teeth. Even that made his head pound. He worked his jaw to force himself to relax the muscle there again.
"Long day," Red huffed. "Can you watch this for me? You're here anyways," he asked briskly. Closing his eyes had helped the throbbing but the aura was still there even behind his eyelids. His stomach had lurched into overdrive.
"If you insist," Red heard White reply. They dropped their hand off of Red's shoulder. He pushed away from the table and swept out of the room as quickly as his legs could carry him. It felt like they had turned to jelly. Reflexive memory took over for Red, and he found himself stumbling onto one of the cafeteria benches.
He reached out with one hand until he found the tabletop. His vision was shaking. Sweat had broken out on his face and the back of his neck. He could feel it beading there as he fought to take slow, controlled breaths. Red leveraged himself down onto the bench.
An acrid taste lingered in the back of his mouth. When he swallowed to get rid of it, his mouth instantly was again filled with saliva. All tell-tale signs he was about to throw up. No, no. Not in his helmet!
Red fumbled with the latch at his neck. Someone called his name but he wasn't paying attention to something as inconsequential as that. His gloved fingers didn't want to find purchase on the latch. His throat spasmed and it was only a matter of frantic heartbeats before-
Blue pressed the visor release button as the first full retch wracked Red's body. Hot tears bit the corner of his eyes with the next involuntary shudder. He was vaguely aware of Blue's murmured reassurances as his body evacuated his stomach contents onto the tiles of the cafeteria.
"You'll be okay. Deep breaths. There you go," Blue said soothingly. Red heaved one final time before he could finally sit back on the bench. He rubbed away the remaining sick from his lips with the back of his hand.
"Never had a migraine quite like this one," he said. The edges of his vision were still bright and wavering. Intermittent flashes and starbursts flared. He started to close his eyes until he spotted his hand. There was a dark smudge on it. "What the?" Red murmured.
Blue's comforting touch stilled on Red's back. "Red?" Her voice wavered with the question.
He lifted his hand to see better. The black ooze was viscous. He grimaced and flicked his hand to get it off. That was when he realized. On the floor in front of him was more of it splattered. "What the?"
A deep, dark part of Red thought of all the horrifying stories of unknown pockets of space and the dangers that lurked there. The rational side made him shake his head and look to Blue. "Tell me that isn't a side effect of eating too many MIRA ration packs?" he asked blearily.
"No." Both Red and Blue looked up to see White standing in the doorway of the cafeteria. They had their head tipped to the side as they considered the pair of crewmates. "It means that you're not compatible."
Blue stood up, her hands balled in fists. "Not compatible? What the hell are you on about, White? Did you do this? Poison him?" she cried.
Red was having a hard time keeping either of them in focus. His head throbbed in time with his racing heartbeat. "Poison? Hardly. I tried to improve him. Raise him up from this pathetic form."
This didn't make sense. Red's head continued to spin. He leaned forward onto his elbows and tried to not look at the ichor spattered on the floor below. "I think I should go to medical," Red announced more to himself than to either of the crewmates next to him.
There was a hand on his shoulder briefly as Blue gave him a comforting touch. "It's interesting that only one of you is reacting though," Red heard White continue to speak. A fresh wave of concern washed over Red.
Blue bristled. "Why? Have you been poisoning all of us, then?" she snapped.
"Improving," White insisted again. Their boots stepped into Red's view. Red instinctively pressed further away as they approached. His back hit the table, and Blue's hand lifted from his shoulder. White's focus was no longer on Red; behind his visor Red could just barely see their eyes narrowing in on Blue now.
"At least it seems one of you is compatible. This trip won't have been a complete waste of time," they said. One hand traced the edge of Blue's visor.
Red forced himself to his feet. He wavered and the edges of his vision were shot, but he wasn't going to let White anywhere near Blue if he could help it. "Don't touch her," he growled.
Again White made that tct sound that Red so hated to hear. Amazing how so small of a noise could prompt so much frustration. "I wouldn't be wasting my breath worrying about someone else. You should be focusing on what's left of your own life."
Another wave of nausea swept over Red. This time he dropped to his knees as his body rejected the alien improvements. Blue let out a soft noise. She tried to reach him, but White stepped in between them. "Don't bother," White said. "He'll be gone by breakfast. Won't even taste good, either, which is just a damn shame. You'll be starving by then."
"You're a monster!" Blue spat. "I'm not giving up on him."
Red couldn't quite focus on their conversation. It wove in and out of his ears like white noise. Heh. White noise.
"You should. It's smart, keeping your distance from the weak ones. I've made you better than him, remember?"
There was pain now, not just in Red's skull. His insides felt like fire even as he retched up more ichor. He still managed to bring his head back up to look up at the others.
"See? He's dying. You're thriving. He won't make it through the transition," White said.
Blue was shaking her head, but she had stopped trying to shove past White. "You don't know that."
"I've seen it a dozen times this year alone," White admitted with a dark chuckle. "The writing's on the wall for Red."
No, that couldn't be true. Red fought to bring just one knee up, to be able to stand again. He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. His suit was smeared with more black bile. "Blue…" he murmured. He wasn't sure what he was asking for.
She broke from her stare-off with White to look down at him. Her little plant bobbed on her helmet, the leaves trembling. For the first time, Red wasn't sure quite what he could see in her eyes beneath the visor.
His head was throbbing.
A/N: I really wanted to play around with the idea that Impostors could make more Impostors out of other normal crewmates, so when I saw that this sign up was tagged with the Imp worldbuilding option I got really excited!
Blanket statement for my oneshots - Please do not ask if I am continuing these. They are single "chapter" fics which I am considering complete. Thank you. - DragonMaster65