Dr. Jenkins straightened his tie and opened the glass door to the windowless three-story office building. A lobby directory gave him the room number.
The gray-haired lady was pacing back and forth behind the conference room table, her suit conservative and expensive, her posture as straight as the English teacher who'd terrorized him in the sixth grade.
"There you are! For what I'm paying you, I'd expect you to be prompt."
"Yes, Mrs. Wilson." He didn't object to the drop-everything-and-come-immediately job. Those paid very well. "My service gave no information. What do you need?"
Her pacing stopped. She looked at him for the first time. "Um. Nothing. I don't need you. I just need your presence."
Dr. Jenkins said nothing. Consulting work often meant doing what was asked, rather than what was sensible. If she wanted to tell him what was going on, she would. If not, he'd still bill her.
She gripped the back of the nearest chair. "This is a closed medical research partnership. We have our own rules. Any of our doctors can seal his lab. Not even another partner can inspect it, except under special circumstances."
Her face was rigid. "Cyrus, my husband, is not letting anyone in. I'm not even a doctor. I'm the lawyer for the group. It's been ten days, and I want access."
"Have you spoken to him?"
She nodded. "He's hiding something." Her face tightened.
"But I can hire you, our designated Procedures Consultant, for legal protection. You have access. And you can bring in one assistant. That's me."
She headed for the door. He followed. Down the corridor, she produced documents and he proved his identity. The security guard was too well trained to show any emotions. He checked his notes and made a call on the phone into the lab.
"Ten minutes,” he informed her.
The room was dark, barely lit. Dr. Cyrus Wilson was dressed casually, as if he were heading out for a game of golf. He came up to the glass and pressed the intercom button.
"Cin! What are you doing here? I told you I couldn't come out until this experiment was completed."
"Cyrus, what's happened to your arm?"
In the darkness, Dr. Jenkins hadn't noticed the man's discoloration, but the arm was covered in dark patches. It was less evident on the other arm, but even on his face, the researcher had discolored spots.
Wilson sighed. "Cin, I'm afraid that I've been infected by one of my own experiments." The room was obviously a quarantine cell. There was a bed, slept in. But there was also a computer terminal.
Motion in the darkness showed a nurse, dressed head to foot in contamination gear, stocking lab supplies on a counter. The doctor had made his cell into a workplace.
"Turn on the light. Let me see."
"Cin, I'm trying to keep the light low to keep it from spreading."
His wife shook her head. "I need to see."
He sighed. "Okay, for a minute. The light adjustment is on your side."
She glanced at her consultant. Jenkins found the knob and turned the brightness up. The skin patches were bright green.
"It's chlorophyll. The experiment was to take plants' ability to make food from sunlight and give it to livestock."
She put her hand to her mouth. "How did it happen?"
"Just a stupid mistake. A vial broke. Cut my hand. It was days before the symptoms appeared.
"Of course, I sealed the lab immediately. Anything like this would raise the specter of human genetic alteration. It's not, of course -- just a chloroplast modified to take up residence in an animal cell as if it were a mitochondria. But if the media found out, it would be a disaster. I couldn't even tell you, Cin."
His wife didn't look mollified.
Jenkins looked over the control panel. For the first time, he spoke, "Dr. Wilson, are you concerned that this ... green skin alteration, might be infectious?"
"Dr. Jenkins, is it? I just don't know yet. It would be unethical to risk it. Until we know more, or better yet, find a safe way to kill out all the chloroplasts, I'll have to stay locked in here." He explained how the carrier organism circulated through the blood stream, seeding the animal cells with the snip of DNA that formed the hybrid chloroplast. Only in the skin cells, exposed to light, did they develop and produce chlorophyll.
Jenkins watched the man carefully as he spoke. He watched the nurse, too. Something was off.
Turning to Mrs. Wilson, he whispered, "I'm unsure of one thing. Who is my client? You or the labs?"
She hesitated, glancing at her husband. She weighted her answer, and then said, "I hired you. Why do you ask?"
He turned to the glass. "Doctor? Could you send the nurse out? I need to ask her some questions."
"Um, I'm not sure if that's wise." He frowned and looked at his wrapped-up assistant.
"Oh, I'm sure there's no chance of any air-borne infection, Dr. Wilson. Not with the blood-borne organism you described. It's just a couple of questions, about your procedures."
Wilson was clearly, hesitant, but nodded. The nurse went out through the double-doors.
"I need to go through decontamination before I come out there with you."
Mrs. Wilson looked concerned.
Jenkins shook his head. "Nonsense. If you're worried, then we'll stay several feet away. Unless Dr. Wilson was misrepresenting the nature of the organism...."
Slowly, reluctantly, she came into the control room, still dressed in contamination gear.
"Hmm. The only thing I can see of you is your eyes. Why don't you take off that suit?"
She looked past him, towards Dr. Wilson behind the glass.
"Come on, it's hard for me to talk to someone when I can't see their face."
She still hesitated.
"Young lady!" Mrs. Wilson weighed in. "Do as you're told."
Behind the goggles, her eyes were wide with fright.
Jenkins pushed. "There's no reason not to open your suit. It's designed to keep the infection out, isn't it?"
She looked at Dr. Wilson. "Cyrus?"
There was a sigh through the intercom. "Go ahead, Janis."
"Your glove, please," ordered Jenkins.
She tugged off her right glove. The hand was solid green. Mrs. Wilson gasped and took a step back.
"The other one, too." To his employer he said, "Don't be alarmed. It's not contagious."
"How do you know? They both have it."
Jenkins looked at the stitches on her left hand and nodded. "See, she's the one with the cut on her hand. You husband said he had the accident, but he had no injury."
"Then, how did he get it?"
The nurse pulled off the goggles and head covering. She was a striking brunette, and even with a deep green complexion, she was beautiful.
Jenkins explained, "With this kind of organism, it's unlikely to be infectious through casual contact. As they say these days, it requires 'exchange of bodily fluids'."
Mrs. Wilson turned to the glass and shrieked, "Cyrus!"