“Where has this child been?” Dr. Langendorpher asked. She took off her rainbow styled eyeglasses, and set the retro frames on her metal desktop. “She’s quite bright, sweet girl, but her bodies a mess, her lungs were inflamed like she was a mushroom farmer.”
Artemis sat down on a nearby cushioned side chair.
“Like we agreed,” Artemis said. She crossed her legs. “She’s part of a new file, a hospital client? Wylie and I have to manage it, investigate the claim before it goes into a suit, and then we both know, the media gets involved.”
“Agreed, we understand each other,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She partially pushed her face upwards, she huffed. “Now, who is she, really?”
Artemis uncrossed her legs. She leaned forward.
“My only love, Benjamin, he’s gone,” Artemis said. She stared downward at the medical offices tiled floor. She paused. “He’s gone, died fighting bad guys, with me. I found out later, Laina was his child, by accident, a cruel coincidence.”
“Where?” Dr. Langendorpher asked. “Where’s this hospital?”
“Selene, Kentucky,” Artemis said. She quizzically looked over at Dr Langendorpher. “Why?”
“I have no idea where that is,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “But, they are highly sophisticated. Whoever they are, Laina’s basically someone’s experimental rat. I don’t like it, a child should be protected, not abused.”
Artemis got up and started to pace inside Dr. Langendorpher’s office. She glossed her fingers over medical text books, several dogeared PDRs, and long since out of print medical journals.
“I suspected,” Artemis said. She paused. “I have a NDA over me, but since your helping with the file, right?”
“I would need to know,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She hissed.
“Exactly,” Artemis said. She tapped on the bookshelf. “The hospital is decent sized, multi-disciplinary, OB, across the line patient services.”
“Really?” Dr. Langendorpher asked. She interlocked her fingers across her waist as she scooted back. “How do they keep the place open, wouldn’t seem enough population to feed it.”
“My thoughts, as well,” Artemis said. She held her right hand under her left elbow to support her arm. Her fingers squished over her lips. “But the place is modern, well managed from the outside looking in. But…”
“Let me guess,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She held up her hand like the smart school girl from the back of the class. “Large genetics lab, experiments with mushrooms, for new drugs that will save humanity? Or other nonsense about saving Mother Earth.”
Artemis looked back over at Dr. Langendorpher.
“Why mushrooms?” Artemis asked. She held her look over at Dr. Langendorpher. “You’re being quite specific.”
“Laina, her lungs were infested with mushroom spores, different types,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “I cleared her up, but it was not without some serious anti-fungals, with an anti-inflammatory course, still might be an asthmatic for the rest of her life. Otherwise, I got all her human problems checked out.”
“Not surprised,” Artemis said. “But, you filled in a lot of information without any knowledge, how?”
“Artemis, please,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She leaned onto her office desk, supported by her elbows. Her white lab coat stretched at the sleeves. “I follow emerging science, like any other physician. But, the healthcare community needs to discover new antibiotics, as a species we are becoming drug resistant. Besides, penicillin was discovered by fungi, mushrooms, they have their own kingdom, mold, yeasts, they are ten times the size of plants and animals. First place I’d go looking for answers to this deadly riddle.”
“No idea, really, ten times?” Artemis said. She stared down at Dr. Langendorpher. “What else, give it up, you look like your holding back.”
Dr. Langendorpher leaned back and crossed her arms. She winked over at Artemis.
“You know,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “To the uneducated, you know, self important government types, they think all you need is a medical cookbook to treat the human condition, which is bullshit, and they are self entitled morons.”
“Wow,” Artemis said. “Never heard you cuss before…”
“I’m still a country girl at heart, I only cuss when I’m mad,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She got up without losing her stare over at Artemis. “Medicine is about art and science, after awhile, your instincts start to lead you in a direction, you should follow your instincts. In this case, why don’t you follow me down the hallway.”
“I guess I should,” Artemis said.
Artemis got up and walked along side with Dr. Langendorpher down toward the clinics nuclear and radiology laboratory. Dr. Langendorpher found an empty office within steps of a large PET scan machine.
“Artemis, that monster over there,” Dr. Langendorpher said as she pointed at the large machine centered with a donut hole like portal surrounded by a round mass encased inside prefabricated smooth hard plastic materials. “It’s a fancy machine, does PET scans and MRI, a terrific combination. A game changer, but expensive.”
“Never seen one,” Artemis said. She stared through the office window and out at the resting medical leviathan.
“We got one,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “No one knows it, administer, good girl, she squirreled away some grant money, or other financial magic, regardless, it’s here.”
Artemis sat down next to Dr. Langendorpher.
“Put Laina through it?” Artemis said. She appeared blank faced, and her eyes stared at the computer screen. “What does she got?”
Dr. Langendorpher glanced over at Artemis.
“Nothing I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She toggled the computer mouse, and clicked on icons until she found Laina’s electronic health record. “If I had gotten caught, I’d have lost my license, but I did it anyway.”
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said.
“I had them preform a PET and MRI on Laina,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Without pre-authorization, plus she’s a minor, even so, I went looking for something. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, mind you, but, I felt down to my mortal soul something suspicious was inside that child.”
Artemis gulped. She blew methodically, slowly through her open mouth. She pressed her lips together.
“What then?” Artemis asked.
“Tech thought I’d lost my mind,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She toggled the mouse icon. “Gave little Laina a drink with F-18 fluorodeoxglucose in it, a radiotracer mind you, she was so sweet, completely oblivious.”
“Was she scared?” Artemis said. “I would be.”
Dr. Langendorpher waved Artemis’ comment away.
“No, I told her it was just part of a basic physical,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She studied the screen, and then she clicked an icon to open a computer file with a 3-D image. She pointed at the screen. “She’s healthy, except for those little critters, look closely at where the radiotracer accumulated.”
Artemis at first only saw red shades, pale greens, and deep blue colors. But then, from her medical training she started to notice minute spots within the bright red areas.
“The dark spots, as you move from each image,” Artemis said. “They move, they shift just a little.”
“You’re good, for a med mal girl,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She double clicked the computer mouse to blowup the cranial scan image. “I think those things are the size of human cells, almost undetectable. I think there you see microbots, fueled by either a magnetic field, or a laser system, like a solar energy panel on the roof of a house, but in this case, microscopic.”
Artemis leaned in closer next to Dr. Langendorpher. She watched the dust like spots move like tiny spiders across Laina’s brain matter.
“Why?” Artemis asked. She held her breath, and rapidly blinked her eyelids. “What do you think?”
“I think someone,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She heard some nearby movement, some random conversations within the laboratory. She quickly closed the Laina’s patient file. She turned toward Artemis. “Someone is using those things to monitor Laina, not just her vital signs.”
“The mushrooms,” Artemis said. She turned toward the door as the nearby conversation grew louder. “They’ve been genetically modified, so are the spores, quite specific?”
“We should take a walk,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She turned off the computer screen, she got up acknowledged a lab tech who was prepping a patient. “Let’s walk into the hallway.”
Dr. Langendorpher had her hands inside her white lab coat’s pockets. She acknowledged her colleagues, blew a kiss over at the haggard nurses, and orderlies.
“She’s been a lab rat, for sure,” Artemis said. “Like you said, I’m lost.”
“I think so, by the way, someone skilled in surgery inserted a monitor in Laina’s right hand, between the thumb and her forefinger,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She squeezed the spot within her own wrinkled hand. “This is the spot, leave it alone, its their poker tell, it’ll lead you back to them.”
“They are tracking her,” Artemis said. “Right?”
“I think you need to be careful,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She stopped walking and touched Artemis’ forearm. “Unless I missed something, they’ll want their lab rat back, those bots are dying, slowly. They need energy, hear me?”
“I understand, I think,” Artemis said. She smelled the disinfected environment, she stared down the busy well lit marble floored hallway. “I won’t note the claim files, but I’ll tell this to Wylie, right?”
“Yeah, I think you should, just for your own protection,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She started to walk. “Let’s act like I was just practicing some safe clinical experiments, just to see how the machine worked, nothing more, you know, for a healthy patient, got the kid a baseline and all.”
“Noted,” Artemis said. “You’re so kind.”
Dr. Langendorpher stopped walking again, and gripped Artemis’ left forearm.
“Be careful, here me?” Dr. Langendorpher said. She suspiciously looked up and down the hallway. She tightly gripped Artemis’ forearm. “Like I said, this is a highly sophisticated outfit. I think Laina’s in danger. And, I suspect she’s not the only one, and by the way, you’ll be right there with her.”
“I know,” Artemis said. She stepped back, and shook Dr. Langendorpher‘ s hand. “Thank you, as always, I’ll keep Wylie up to date, you’re a gold mine.”
“I know, he’ll call anyway,” Dr. Langendorpher said. She walked away, briefly looked back at Artemis, and disappeared down a side hallway.
Artemis left the medical facility. She pondered Satan’s comments, the wooden whistle and wondered if she were, in a strange reality, Satan’s lab rat lost inside an invisible evil labyrinth that Dante could never have imagined.
End. Chapter 19.
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