Barney did not know what to think.
The man who had accompanied Léana opted to remain at the airport, saying he and the pilot would arrange their own accommodation. Barney offered them a room at his place, as there were four bedrooms available. He thanked Barney for the offer, but declined and said that he was sure that Léana would appreciate some time with him. He also added that the company was happy to assist her in any way required, and provided a phone number to contact him on.
Barney drove up Melville Bay Road, heading north to Nhulunbuy and his home. The house was a modest one, though its walls stood out by virtue of its mural of Yolngu art running around it.
Léana, who had placed her glasses and headscarf back on before disembarking from the plane, looked upon the house. “That is an amazing piece of art, Barney. That must have taken a long time.”
“I donate a lot of my income to the various Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, and some to other communities around Australia who are fundraising. The Yirrkala community offered me anything I liked after I donated to one of theirs. I finished my house, and wanted to find a way to make it mine. Requesting an artist to help decorate my house, they sent some painters and they painted this mural.”
The two entered the house, which had fine wood flooring throughout. There were many pieces of Aboriginal art on the walls, and the furniture was nothing extravagant.
Barney looked to Léana. “Come on, take your glasses and headscarf off. You don’t need to hide anything.”
As she did, Barney was amazed at how her hair and eyes stood in stark contrast to her now-onyx skin. Where one would expect to see wiry black hair and brown or black eyes, the red hair and pale blue eyes came as a shock.
“I am sure that jacket cannot be comfortable in this humid heat. So all your skin has turned this colour?”
She nodded as she removed her coat. She had a short-sleeved blouse on underneath, and her arms were as black as her face.
Barney tried not to look at her as if she was a carnival attraction, but it was very hard to do so. She looked somewhat uncomfortable as he looked at her.
Barney gestured to the couch in the living area. “So… How did this happen?”
The pair sat down. Her thick Irish accent added further disconnect to her appearance. “When I was discharged from the hospital’s Quarantine area in Berlin, everything was in the clear. The doctors had come in and seen me without their protective gear, and nothing adverse had happened to them. The only thing that anyone had noticed was a slight darkening to my freckles, and the tests showed a slight increase in my melanogenesis levels.”
Barney gave her a blank look.
“It is the process through which your body maintains its skin pigmentation. The doctors said that it was unusual, but not anything that would cause adverse effects to my body, and should calm over time.” She held her forearms up beside her face. “Then this happened.”
“So it started after you got home?’
She nodded. “My freckles continued to darken until they were the black that my skin is now. My mother was shocked, and said I had to go see our local doctor. The day that I was booked in to see him, my skin had started to tan overnight. The weather in Ireland is not one that allows one to tan, so the doctor was at a loss.”
“And it continued until you got to this?”
“Yes, where the doctor diagnosed it as hyperpigmentation. Since I had been in Quarantine for so long, I had not had much exposure to natural light. Once released, the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was spend some time in the Heritage Areas around Athlone. Needless to say, there was a lot more natural sunlight then, which seemed to accelerate the process.”
“And your doctor had no idea what caused this?”
Léana shook her head. “He got I contact with the doctors in Berlin, seeing if he could find any hints. There was nothing he could see in their diagnoses or reports, so he assumed that it must have been something else. That it hadn’t happened to me before, he suggested that it may have been an adverse reaction to something from Venus.”
Barney thought for a moment. “I remember you mentioned that weird happening with the diamonds you removed from the AMRD pack. The colour disappeared?”
She nodded. “Yes, and I could never figure out where the colour went. There were no drips or stains left anywhere.”
“Did you handle the diamond pieces with your bare hands?”
Thinking for a time, she nodded. “After pulling them out of the AMRD pack, I had a closer look at them. Aye, I did not wear gloves or the like.”
“There must be something to that. When I showed the Carbonado samples to my contacts in Geneva and Bangui, they noted some adverse characteristics of the diamonds.”
She nodded. “Maybe we should speak with them.”
Barney thought of how to go about it. “I can try to call Claudio’s cousin, Liban. After him, maybe I can contact Azu in Bangui.”
“I would be grateful.” She looked at her hand nervously, as if unsure of what she wanted to say next. “My skin not the only thing that’s different, but I feared mentioning it for what people would think.”
Barney leaned closer. “Why? What else is there?”
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