“Yes,” Artemis said into her smartphone. She placed the phone on her nightstand, using the speakerphone function. She wiped away morning haze from her eyes. “I can hear you.”
“This is Dr. Langendorpher,” she said. “Only reason we are talking is Wylie, understand?”
“Of course,” Artemis said. She coughed. She picked up the smartphone after plugging in her earpiece. “I have you off speakerphone, sorry, I just woke from a nap, rough night, working a bit late.”
“Try pulling an ER shift in your seventies,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Your odd friends, Alan and Mikey brought a child over to my practice, are you her parent or guardian?”
“No,” Artemis said. “She’s the child from my deceased boyfriend. Her mother recently passed. I’m trying to find her next of kin, but, in meantime, I’m just trying to help her out, that’s all. I doubt she’s ever had a health checkup.”
“Well, I can lose my license, you understand?” Dr. Langendorpher asked. “I trust Wylie. He said you can be trusted, we understand each other?”
“Yes,” Artemis said. She understood what Dr. Langendorpher was asking. “I’m just looking to help her out, and how should I say this, just looking for your expert opinion. It’s what Wylie and I do, investigate medical malpractice cases, right?”
There was silence for a few seconds on the other end of the smartphones cellular connection.
“We understand each other, I’m not accepting her into my practice, but only for a expert evaluation,” Dr. Langendorpher said. Artemis heard her sigh. “She’s precious child, I’ll never turn my back on a child in need.”
“Of course,” Artemis said. “I feel the same.”
“Ms. Lamb, the girl has been abused, she’s a mess,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Where do I start?”
“I had a sick feeling,” Artemis said.
“Your instincts were correct,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “She’s got a wearable device tapped on her back, between her shoulder blades in a spot she’d never touch. Who ever did it knew exactly where to place it.”
Artemis tightly gripped her smartphone, she stood up and walked over toward the hotel room’s windows.
“I’m not sure I fully understand,” Artemis said. “But I have a sick feeling you do.”
“Someone’s monitoring her,” Dr. Langendorpher said, flatly. “Tracking her movements, her vital signs. After I found the wearable, I didn’t remove it. But then I got curious and scanned her from head to toe.”
“What else?” Artemis said. Her lungs puffed odd shaped condensation blobs against the cold window. “Wearable’s are to easy, what else?”
“Her right hand, between the thumb and forefinger,” Dr. Langendorpher said. Artemis thought the doctor sounded passionate, angry like she wanted to punch someone. “Implanted microchip, just under the first Dorsal Interosseous Muscle, someone knows where she is at all times. Like she’s a little lab rat. I’ve never seen a real one, only read about them, just a disgusting part of science.”
Artemis stared through the windows and noticed her perplexed reflection gazing back at her. It was as if she were a living image of herself trapped inside the smoked glass.
“Her lungs?” Artemis asked.
“Interesting,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “You’re a few steps ahead of me, why did you ask that?”
“I discovered where Laina was sleeping inside the hospital,” Artemis said. She slowed down to consider her words.
“Go on,” Dr. Langendorpher said, demandingly.
“Hospital has a dark room where they grow mushrooms, fungus, it’s temperature controlled,” Artemis said. “Ah, for clinical research, new drugs. Something about penicillin, antibiotics. I don’t understand the entire science, it makes sense to me long term, they say its a safe place to sleep.”
“Not sure I agree,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “I don’t need to see it, Laina’s lungs are coated with spores, she has been infested with fungi.”
“Obviously, this is terrible,” Artemis said. She shifted to turn toward her workstation inside her hotel room. “I’ll send you cash, from the company.”
“No,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Send me a file, I’ll invoice you all, I want it kept above board.”
“Better idea, I’ll work it out then with Wylie,” Artemis said. “What’s the next steps?”
“I need to take tissue samples,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “I don’t need your consent.”
“Do what you can,” Artemis said.
“Good news, and I don’t even need to look at the samples under a microscope,” Dr. Langendorpher said.
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said.
“Fungi can be lethal,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “If the spores were from say, I looked it up, Amanita muscaria. The girl would have developed liver damage, and died a horrible death.”
“Can she be saved?” Artemis asked. Artemis closed her eyes, and slowly breathed out. “Just tell me.”
“I’ll manage her,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Take a breath.”
“Thank you,” Artemis said. She sat down on the edge of the hotel bed. “I’ll be back home soon, I’ll come visit you.”
“Another item to consider,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “GMOs.”
Artemis stared over at her computers. She frowned at the thoughts that were as obvious to her as breathing.
“I tried not to consider this,” Artemis said. “I guess it’s sometimes better to remain ignorant, go on.”
“Mushrooms, or better what’s making the mushrooms,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Can you get me some samples?”
“I think so,” Artemis said. “What else are you thinking?”
“I did some study,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Sweet girl’s results got me wondering, I was afraid I’d end up down a rabbit hole wasting my time, but then that internet.”
“I eat mushrooms,” Artemis said.
“You’re on to me,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Ever heard of CRISPR? I’m sure it’s an issue in your world.”
“Not yet,” Artemis said. “We’ve been monitoring the issue, but, we’ve not been presented with a case.”
“You will,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Genetic modification of food is one thing, scary if in the hands of a madman.”
“Ah, if I follow,” Artemis said. “That’s a big lift, as in, I don’t even like to think it.”
“As well,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Quietly modify the Genome, make slight genetic alterations through a food source.”
“No body, even government types,” Artemis said.
“Correct,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Would ever suspect a hospital in no where Kentucky.
“They do send me in to clean up messes,” Artemis said.
“You have a mess,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “Interesting side bar from researching Laina’s case, appears Death Cap mushrooms, read an article, Amanita phalloides, there’s an infestation happening, right under our feet.”
Artemis wrote down the words, death cap.
“I’ll check into this,” Artemis said. “Thank you.”
“I’ll manage this girl, give her some milk thistle, she’ll be fine for the most part,” Dr. Langendorpher said. “But, I’m not sure what else might be going on inside her tiny body.”
Artemis ended the smartphone conversation. She sat in front of her computer screen, and typed in CRISPR. She was provided a long string of self-service gene editing businesses. All she needed to do was swab inside her mouth, share the saliva with a hidden laboratory. And then Artemis realized her DNA would be freely available for the world to inspect and analyze in government or other data bases. She read a science paper abstract, CRISPR, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and associated protein 9, CRISPR-Cas9, it was technology to edit genes in organisms.
“Mycelia,” Artemis said to the computer. “The largest organism in the world.”
And from beyond Artemis’ modest hotel room. She heard the whispered words from Satan.
“Now you’re thinking,” Satan said. “The Devil’s always found in the tiny, genetic details.”
Artemis got up and walked over to the hotel room windows. She watched the wondering spirits searching for answers. And wondered what had she stumbled into in little Selene, Kentucky.
End. Chapter 17.
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