It was his eyes, Artemis thought. His dark eyes penetrated, probed over at her, as if she was locked into two laser points from an assassin’s high powered weapon.
“Am I younger than you expected?”
Artemis hesitated, she looked across the conference table over at Gene Haskell. He looked hungover, and he almost foamed at the mouth. She then stared directly at Dr. Demetrius.
“Yes,” Artemis said. “But I knew that, you’re well trained, curious what attracted you to this hospital, not to be rude, but, your credentials can get you into any hospital you choose?”
“You are not nice,” Gene said. He looked away from Artemis and stared over at Dr. Demetrius.
“I finished college at sixteen,” Dr. Demetrius said. He was a large man, raven haired with an olive toned complexion. “Medical school was quite straight forward, after specialty training, I got a Ph.D for the fun of it. But, to the root of your question, I have freedom here, the governments eyes rarely waste their time out here.”
Artemis remained quiet, still, and considered the moment. She thought Dr. Demetrius enjoyed being Dr. Demetrius. She was certain that was the flaw she sought. And she sensed evil, she was certain Satan was in control of Dr. Demetrius. It was just an instinctual sensation.
“Freedom?” Artemis asked, curiously.
“Yes, freedom,” Dr. Demetrius said. He had a sinister smile that every orthodontist hoped to replicate. “To practice healing, to advance our culture. To discover.”
Gene coughed. He leaned toward Dr. Demetrius.
“She’s under an NDA,” Gene said. “But, I would advise caution, she’s not our friend.”
“Now, Gene,” Dr. Demetrius said. He held his left hand up. He had long fingers. “She’s not are friend, you mean, yet. Can we be friends, Artemis? Besides, I love your Greek name, and your red hair. Greeks don’t have red hair.”
“This is business,” Artemis said. She closed her iPad. She stuffed it into her purse. “How about you take me for a hospital tour, show the place off?”
“I’m not sure,” Gene said.
“Absolutely,” Dr. Demetrius said. He smacked his hands on the conference table. “Wonderful idea, I hate wasting time in pointless meetings. Let’s move, shall we?”
Dr. Demetrius quickly rose, and encouraged Artemis and Gene to follow behind him. Within the hospital hallways he acknowledge staff, patients and their family and friends like an all powerful emperor strolling within his domain wearing a flowing pure white lab cloak. He pointed up at certain treatment areas. He waved over toward common catheter labs, or active surgical suites. But then Dr. Demetrius walked into the obstetrics ward. He turned around like broadway showman, and faced Artemis with an expectant expression.
“This,” Dr. Demetrius said. He opened his arms wide apart. “This is where I do my best work.”
“We have adopted precision medicine,” Gene said.
“Quite, true,” Dr. Demetrius said. He pointed at Gene.
Artemis watched Dr. Demetrius, she realized he followed her gaze toward the now empty patient room where Laina’s dead mother had been forcibly kept alive.
“Not sure I understand?” Artemis asked. She made certain to stare at nothing, and ignored the nurses behind their station.
“We don’t really need to stay here,” Gene said.
“Here, in this hospital,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Life emerges within the simple walls, but I believe we have so much more, I want to show you my mushroom farm, I think you’ll be amazed.”
“Mushroom farm?” Artemis said. She crinkled her face. “What?”
“This is all confidential,” Gene said. He nudged over near Artemis. “We have a thriving campus, under Dr. Demetrius’ leadership, we are entering into an amazing array to heal the sick, protect God’s innocent ones.”
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Demetrius said, dismissively. He pointed over toward a hulking man who stood behind a thick window. “But we must wear a respirator, the mushrooms constantly bloom during the day, they calm only at night, under my control. I am careful with my darlings not to over stimuli.”
“I don’t remember any mention within the files,” Artemis said. Artemis cautiously followed Dr. Demetrius past the security guard room, Gene was behind her as they moved down a long corridor with a marble floor, and in front of a solid looking metal door that puffed open after Dr. Demetrius’ thumb print. He waved his hand across a sensor. As they stepped forward, within the room it was quiet, and calm. The only real sounds came from the HVAC system that sounded like a sleeping giant.
“What I’m about to show you,” Dr. Demetrius said. He adjusted the respirator over his face. He secured it. And then he inspected the respirator on Artemis’ face. “Emerging science, it must be protected, at all costs. Understand?”
“Yes, I have to,” Artemis said. As Dr. Demetrius pushed further forward to completely open the thick door that fully exhaled from the inside like a satisfied lover. She thought she was entering an alien world that appeared always at dusk, centered by tall space ship sized containers. “This is a strange surprise, it’s huge, like a giant warehouse, right here, who knew, it’s not in your files.”
“It’s super secret,” Gene said. “Word from Nashville.”
As Artemis entered she sensed the moderate temperature. It was as if long grey clouds blanketed the containers from the ceiling down like a dense African forest slowly dripping moisture, and sounded like a calming rain.
“We keep the room at a constant sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit,” Dr. Demetrius said. He sounded odd speaking over at Artemis from within his respirator. “That way the mushrooms continue to grow, we need these respirators from the constant spores being released from the mushrooms. That sound comes from humidification, my children need moisture, not to much, not to little – sort of a goldilocks environment, if you’ll excuse the cliché.”
“This room is massive,” Artemis said. She stepped farther forward over the terrazzo flooring. “Your children?”
“We have a large facility,” Gene said. “It’s meticulously maintained, our work is too important.”
“Our?” Dr. Demetrius said.
“Sorry, your work,” Gene said. “I know it’s your work.”
Artemis stared across the darkness at stacks and stacks of tall, square storage units. Each shelf utilized, covered in spiderweb like mesh sheets. They appeared to have blue inked written dates, times and serial numbers across the bins front.
“I don’t understand this?” Artemis asked. She stood near a sturdy round steel pole, and she looked up toward the top bin. She guessed it was twenty feet to the top. A sliding rack ladder was resting just within easy distance.
“A new world, we need new drugs,” Dr. Demetrius said. He gripped the pole. “Solid, my children are perfectly safe. Have you ever studied mycelia?”
“No,” Artemis said. “Not sure I understand this.”
“From the mushroom rot we are trying to discover a new form of penicillin, humanity is becoming resistant to antibiotics, anti-fungals,” Dr. Demetrius said. He tapped on a container. “I am pleased with my progress, it will save many unborn children. Do you know what kills more humans in epidemic proportions inside hospitals?”
“Sepsis,” Artemis said. “It’s almost impossible to sanitize a facility, just a fact.”
“True, very good,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Candida Auris, nasty superbug. I must discover how to kill it, before, humanity pays the cost. It has been hiding for thousands of years, until now, now it has started to spread, and kill.”
“Dr. Demetrius is so skilled at growing mushrooms,” Gene said. “The trucks, those trucks you were curious about, we donate the overflow, we are always giving back.”
“What’s over there?” Artemis asked. She pointed curiously at a smoked glass window.
“Nothing much,” Gene said. “Genetics lab, I have no idea what they do all day.”
“Emerging science, Artemis,” Dr. Demetrius said. “With computer power, we are drilling further into the human genome, foods, drugs, and a unknown discoveries – all from fungi, the fungi rule the world you know? They are not animals or plants. They are ten times larger than plant life.”
Artemis stood up straight as she tightly gulped. She realized this was the room Laina had described. She turned to examine the security door. She wondered how a little girl could have possibly snuck into this room, and safely slept through the night. And without a respirator, her fragile lungs, her tiny body being attacked at a microscopic level. She felt her stomach muscles tighten like she were doing her morning sit-up routine. She thought of Benjamin.
“This room is always locked?”
“For the most part,” Gene said. He looked curiously at Artemis like a spaceman examining a rock on a distant planet. He glanced over at Dr. Demetrius.
“At night, when the mushrooms calm down,” Dr. Demetrius said. He nudged closer to Artemis. “We’ll let children from lost parents sleep inside here. I think they feel safe hidden in the bins, it’s dark, and the sporing activity has greatly slowed down. It’s nothing to have any concerns. Unlike right now during their peak sporing time – that’s why we keep it locked down, not to disturb my darlings. But at night, they all rest, I let them relax. I think they like to have children nearby, calms them both.”
“We let them sneak inside,” Gene said. “After all, we have cameras everywhere, poor things have no place to go.”
Artemis was certain they were only sharing half-truths with her. She tried to hide her emotions, her thoughts.
“Well,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Let’s keep moving along.”
“You’re certain?” Artemis asked. She pointed over toward a line of empty bins. “They don’t need to have respirators on for protection.”
“Oh, I’ll sleep in here,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Sleep inside some night, you’ll see, it’s like a mist now, but at night the room is clear as a starry night sky. It’s like camping out in a forest, you’ll sleep like a baby, I promise.”
Artemis searched for the lower level bins. She wondered which one’s Laina had slept in. She was certain she needed to take her to a pediatrician as soon as possible upon her return to St. Petersburg. Above her she sensed movement, like a tiny helicopter was hovering above her.
“By the way,” Gene said. “Thank you for taking that little girl into your home, such a kindness, she has no one of family, we looked into it, just sad at that age to be an orphan.”
“Ah, great news,” Dr. Demetrius said. He clapped his hands. “We are overflowing with them, good for you. I’m sure Gene’s God would approve, right?”
“God loves them all,” Gene said. “All the little children.”
“I’m sure you believe that,” Dr. Demetrius said. He patted Gene’s shoulder like a parent treats a naïve child. “My God lives in science, and emerges in the fact crucible. Without data, without drawing facts from data, we are just wishing for discovery, in truth, accidental discovery rarely happens.”
“What’s your goal? What’s moving up there, in the bins?” Artemis asked. She waved up into the air and looked at the vast space packed with bins. “This is not just a passing fad, you’re up to something much larger.”
Dr. Demetrius pressed his hands together like a Buddhist monk at sunset.
“Artemis,” Dr. Demetrius said. “As the world evolves, we mush evolve, or get left behind. Mycelia is the largest living organism on planet earth, we are surrounded by them. It’s how they feed, they need water and nutrients to grow.”
“I would advise caution,” Gene said. He wedged between Dr. Demetrius and Artemis. “She’s not our friend.”
Dr. Demetrius backed away. He turned to walk toward the far doorway where Gene had indicated a genetic laboratory existed. He stopped and turned back toward Artemis. He pointed upward.
“Those are my drone robots,” Dr. Demetrius said. “They constantly monitor, and tend to their needs. My darlings are never alone, like the fungi out in the forests.”
“That’s amazing,” Artemis said. She watched a drone hover above large bin overgrowing with a mushroom variety. It clipped some growth, it cleared away dead plant life. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Antibiotics, drug resistant germs,” Gene said. He nodded over at Dr. Demetrius. “We, I mean, Dr. Demetrius has been working on new antibiotics, people are becoming drug resistant, need new ones, right?”
“Mushrooms all have unique gill patterns, they are mysterious, they hide beneath there true selves,” Dr. Demetrius said. He sighed. “Like our finger prints, they are so unique, so special, they fascinate me, my children need care.”
“Have you entered into clinical trials?”
“Not yet,” Gene said. He stood between Dr. Demetrius and Artemis. “We’ve made a corporate commitment, it needs time to build out the infrastructure.”
“Have a good day,” Dr. Demetrius said. He pointed his forefinger upward toward a busy drone humming above a bin. “Just remember, mushrooms are good, and evil, all at the same time. The fungi can be harnessed, you’ll see. Sometimes from death, we create new life.”
End. Chapter 13.
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