After wishing the doctor a good, if interrupted, night's sleep and returning her small cabin, York went over the records she'd singled out one more time before calling it a day. She'd learned nothing, or almost nothing, she concluded ruefully. But at least she did know all the names and ranks of the six crew members who had some ties to House Dai Zhan. It wasn't much, but it was a start, even if it wasn't anything she could put before Captain Hull.
After slipping out of her clothes, she felt a sharp stinging in her nostrils, then a painful constriction in her chest. She gasped, reeling for support, but the air she breathed in seared her throat. Instinctively she held her breath and groped for the door, her eyes wet and burning. Her windpipe felt as if it had suddenly been transformed into a tube of liquid fire. She found the panel, slapped it, and as soon as the door opened, staggered out into the corridor. Osborn was standing there, to her left, and he whirled around just in time to catch her as she collapsed.
“Door,” she whispered, waving her hand weakly in the direction of the corridor panel. “Close it!”
Although he must have been surprised to find a half-naked woman literally falling into his arms, the young deckhand reacted quickly. Holding her in one powerful arm, he punched the panel, causing the door to slam shut and sealing the poison in the compartment. Then he lowered her carefully to the deck and spoke rapidly into his communicator.
“Ensign Summers? We got an medical emergency at compartment Alpha Zero Four Three. Tell Doctor Benbow to come here at once! And let the captain know. I think he's going to want to see this. Tell him it concerns the passenger, Miss York.”
She leaned against the wall, desperately sucking in great draughts of air, trying to replace the viciously polluted gas with clean, circulated and purified air.
“Miss York, can you tell me what's wrong?”
“Gas,” she croaked.
“Gas?” Osborn barked, alarmed. “Where?”
“In cabin. Don't open.”
“I won't open it.” He kneeled down and cradled her head, then shrugged out of his uniform jacket and laid it down on the cold deck before helping her lie down upon it. It was big enough to permit him to wrap it over her as a blanket of sorts. “Help is on the way, just try to stay calm.”
She closed her eyes and nodded, wincing as each breath seemed to burn her inflamed throat.
Feet pounded down the corridor.
“Osborn! What's wrong with York?”
She opened her eyes and saw the doctor leaning over her. “Gas—my room,” she answered. She could hear more men arriving and recognized Hull's and Tregaski's voices.
“Is she all right?”
“What happened to York?”
“I'm trying to find out,” Benbow snapped as he took her pulse at her throat. He sniffed the air. “Gas? I don't smell anything.”
“What happened, Osborn?” she heard the captain demand.
“I don't know, Captain! I was standing guard here, as ordered, when the door opened and she came staggering out of there, stark naked!”
“Not naked!” she protested. None of the four men were listening to her. Benbow opened a small compartment nearby and drew out a face mask and portable oxygen tank, then slid the mask over her head.
“There's nothing in the corridor,” Tregaski pointed out. “If there's something in the circulatory system, it should be affecting us here as well.”
York pushed the mask off her face. Although her throat still burned, her head was starting to clear. “It's my room,” she suggested. “But be careful!”
When the captain nodded his approval, Tregaski did something to the panel, then tapped it as Benbow pressed his face against the door, sniffing at the crack like a dog. When the door rose a few centimeters, the doctor recoiled as if he'd been shot. A faint almond-scent permeated the corridor.
“Shut it!” he gasped. Tregaski pressed the panel and the door sealed itself closed again. “It's definitely full of gas.”
“Get me Norden or whoever is senior on maintenance,” Hull was barking into the device on his wrist. “Send two technicians down here now in full environmental suits, and in the meantime, start flushing out compartment Alpha Zero Four Three.
Hull looked down grimly at York, who had sat up and was doing her best to cover herself. “When did you notice the gas, Miss York?”
York said weakly, “I caught a whiff as I was getting undressed to go to bed.”
“It's a good thing you reacted so quickly.” He shook his head and slapped his hand against the corridor wall. “Dammit!”
She understood why he was so angry. It wasn't merely that a woman under his protection had been attacked, although given his psych profile, no doubt that bothered him too. It was the obvious implication of the attack, the fact that someone on his crew was a killer, and almost certainly, a traitor as well.
“If there is gas in the room, why didn't it flood the whole system?” Tregaski asked.
“I'll bet the vents were closed,” Benbow said in a grim voice. He turned to the captain. “If you don't mind, I'd like to take Miss York to the lab, see if I can analyze the gas. I believe I know what it is.”
“It was a cyanic,” York broke in. “I'm sure of it.”
“Yes, I believe that's likely. But we'll be able to identify it precisely after we get a tissue sample from you.” The doctor looked at the captain. “If the party responsible was careless enough, we may be able to identify them through chemical analysis.”
Hull nodded and turned to Tregaski. “Have Norden and his men decontaminate that room and get me the name of every enlisted man and officer who had access to this compartment in the last 36 hours.” He glanced at York. “We'll find the meaning of this,” he promised.
“I think you already know what it means.” York eyed the captain steadily. “It means we're definitely going to find survivors in Subsector Zero Seven Zero Two.”