Blood Music

CHAPTER ONE

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

The rectangular slate-black sign stood on a low mound of bright green and clumpy Korean grass, surrounded by irises and sided by a dark, cement-bedded brook filled with koi. Carved into the street side of the sign was the name GENETRON in Times Roman letters of insignia red, and beneath the name the motto, “Where Small Things Make Big Changes.”

The Genetron labs and business offices were housed in a U-shaped, bare concrete Bauhaus structure surrounding a rectangular garden court. The main complex had two levels with open-air walkways. Beyond the courtyard and just behind an artificial hummock of earth, not yet filled in with new greenery, was a four-story black glass-sided cube fenced with electrified razor-wire.

These were the two sides of Genetron; the open labs, where biochip research was conducted, and the defense contracts building, where military applications were investigated.

Security was strict even in the open labs. All employees wore laser-printed badges and non-employee access to the labs was carefully monitored. The management of Genetron—five Stanford graduates who had founded the company just three years out of school—realized that industrial espionage was even more likely than an intelligence breach in the black cube. Yet the outward atmosphere was serene, and every attempt was made to soft-pedal the security measures.

A tall, stoop-shouldered man with unruly black hair untangled himself from the interior of a red Volvo sports car and sneezed twice before crossing the employee parking lot. The grasses were tuning up for an early summer orgy of irritation. He casually greeted Walter, the middle-aged and whippet-wiry guard. Walter just as casually confirmed his badge by running it through the laser reader. “Not much sleep last night, Mr. Ulam?” Walter asked.

Vergil pursed his lips and shook his head. “Parties, Walter.” His eyes were red and his nose was swollen from constant rubbing with the handkerchief that now resided abused and submissive, in his pocket.

“How working men like you can party on a weeknight, I don’t know.”

The ladies demand it, Walter,” Vergil said, passing through. Walter grinned and nodded, though he sincerely doubted Vergil was getting much action, parties or no. Unless standards had severely declined since Walter’s day, nobody with a week’s growth of patchy beard was getting much action.

Ulam was not the most prepossessing figure at Genetron. He stood six feet two inches on very large flat feet. He was twenty-five pounds overweight and at thirty-two years of age, his back hurt him, he had high blood pressure, and he could never shave close enough to eliminate an Emmett Kelly shadow.

His voice seemed designed not to win friends—harsh, slightly grating, tending toward loudness. Two decades in California had smoothed his Texas accent, but when he became excited or angry, the Panhandle asserted itself with an almost painful edge.

His sole distinction was an exquisite pair of emerald green eyes, wide and expressive, defended by a luxurious set of lashes. The eyes were more decorative than functional, however; they were covered by a large pair of black-framed glasses. Vergil was near-sighted.

He ascended the stairs two and three steps at a time, long powerful legs making the concrete and steel steps resound. On the second floor, he walked along the open corridor to the Advanced Biochip Division’s joint equipment room, known as the share lab. His mornings usually began with a check on specimens in one of the five ultra-centrifuges. His most recent batch had been rotating for sixty hours at 200,000 G’s and was now ready for analysis.

For such a large man, Vergil had surprisingly delicate and sensitive hands. He removed an expensive black titanium rotor from the ultracentrifuge and