“What are you really doing?” Artemis asked.
Dr. Demetrius stood up from behind the fancy conference room table. He waved over for Gene to remain behind with Loretta.
“Have I ever taken you for a tour of my lab?” Dr. Demetrius asked Artemis. “It’s quite remarkable. Even by my standards.”
“No,” Artemis said. She glanced over at the despondent Gene and Loretta. “But, I guess I’m about to.”
“You sure?” Gene asked. He started to stand up.
“You stay, Gene. I’m in charge, after all. Follow me Artemis,” Dr. Demetrius said. He opened the conference room door. Artemis followed him out and into the hospital’s main hallway. He proudly grinned over at Artemis as he strode down the hospital’s internal avenues, and eventually near the door for his mushroom farm.
“I guess we’re back to the farm?” Artemis asked. “Do I need a respirator?”
“No,” Dr. Demetrius said. He covered his nose and mouth with his hand. “Just walk quickly with me, cover your nose, we’ll be fine.”
They went inside the darkness, the large room hummed with drone activity, and at the end of the massive room, Dr. Demetrius pressed his thumb into a finger imprint device as simultaneously his left eyeball was scanned by a biometrical laser. A solid looking door disengaged the lock, and it popped open as if to exhale from its last breath. But Artemis turned from an instinctual nudge and saw a little girl lost in limbo searching. She saw Artemis and she quickly hid within an empty bin. The little girl was alone, and there were no other spirits in the room to guide her into the next dimension.
“What is this?” Artemis asked. She uncovered her nose as she stepped inside behind Dr. Demetrius.
“Want to go on a trip?” Dr. Demetrius asked. He pointed over toward a laboratory table. It had a black granite top with a double sink, an arched faucet with two gas hookups at the rectangular end. A nearby Bunsen burner was silent, and cold. “Those mushrooms over there will take you on a trip without ever leaving, and those over there, will kill you, after you go into liver failure.”
“Are you obsessed with mushrooms?” Artemis said. She crossed her arms to ensure she failed to touch anything. “What do you plan to do with these?”
“For now,” Dr. Demetrius said. He walked farther into the square laboratory space. “Nothing but testing, my real love is the mycelia, the structure underneath the mushroom. I think that’s the answer for humanity, for the world population.”
Artemis watched Dr. Demetrius point at different mushroom varieties. He then took out a sharp edged gardening tool, and careful, almost surgically he opened the potting soil surface within one of the large mushroom containers.
“What am I looking at?” Artemis said.
“See there,” Dr. Demetrius said. He gently disturbed a ghost white network of what Artemis thought looked like tiny tree roots, and a delicate veinous system. “This allows life, it’s almost like a humans circulatory system, see the main artery and all the off shoots?”
“Yes, I see what your saying,” Artemis said. She started to reconsider what she had seen with Virgil and Agent Beaky out in the deep forest. And what Satan had showed her. “What is it?”
“Mycelia, my darling,” Dr. Demetrius said. He pulled back the gardening tool. He gently held the fibrous network on his fingertips. “Glide your finger over them.”
Artemis hesitated, she stepped backward.
“I don’t think so,” Artemis said.
“They don’t bite,” Dr. Demetrius said. With his right hand he gripped Artemis’ forearm. “Just barely touch them, I want you to sense something about my mycelia.”
Artemis slowly, cautiously touched the organism above Dr. Demetrius’ fingertips. It felt like a pile of worms pushed from above the brown soil after a summer storm.
“That was weird,” Artemis said.
“See, they are alive,” Dr. Demetrius said. He slid his fingers back, and recovered the soil. “Let me repair my invasion, this one needs time to grow, and nurture her offspring.”
Artemis looked around the laboratory. It had been cleaned and wiped down in every nearby work station to the point that the chrome surfaces almost sparkled under the lights. To her left the laboratory had numerous more work areas hidden in darkness down a long tiled walkway.
“Does this have anything to do with the hospital?” Artemis asked. “You all have a serious claim, reason I’m here.”
Dr. Demetrius appeared to ignore Artemis’ question as he lovingly repaired his digging marks within the moist soil. He glided his fingers over the area like a master pasty chef glossing over a cake with brown icing.
“Better now, my darling?” Dr. Demetrius said toward the soil and tiny mushroom bulbs. “See Artemis, they can feel my presence, your presence, they can sense your feelings. This one needs to go into the farm, and get cared for and monitored. A mushrooms purpose is to reproduce, to share its spore.”
“You are rather obsessed with mushrooms,” Artemis said.
Dr. Demetrius stood up tall, and he grinned over at Artemis. He nodded at her as he walked over toward a sink, and carefully washed his hands. He encouraged Artemis to follow his example, and she washed her hands.
“Can never be to careful,” Dr. Demetrius said. “You know, that’s how penicillin was invented, by accident, the fungi was left alone to roam in a hospital, Saint Mary’s in London.”
“I don’t understand?” Artemis said. She wiped her hands dry. “What are you telling me?”
“Antibiotics, of course,” Dr. Demetrius said, sarcastically. “What are humans becoming immune too?”
“Oh, I guess,” Artemis said. She sensed Dr. Demetrius’ dismissive comment was her way inside his mind. “Sorry, I’m not that smart, like you.”
“I know,” Dr. Demetrius said. He started to walk down the laboratory corridor with Artemis following. “It was a man, Alexander Fleming, 1928, he left his bacteria, streptococcus, to be somewhat precise, alone in his lab. And perhaps a simple open window, allowed a fungi to accidentally find his bacteria samples, and it did what fungi spores do, it needed to survive, so, it ate the bacteria, killing it.”
“Let me see if I can catchup,” Artemis said. She was certain now the cult in the forest was connected to Dr. Demetrius. But, it was to obvious there was something else. “You’re team, you, are working to discover new antibiotics?”
“Of course, to protect humanity,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Thankfully, they, the hospital system, has me. They allow me freedom to experiment as I wish without interference, my budget is quite large, I rarely get any pushback.”
“No accidents here, the reason all these stations are swept clean?” Artemis asked.
“Exactly,” Dr. Demetrius said. “I cannot allow a discovery to just happen like some all powerful God granted me magic power, or other nonsense. I’ll unlock the fungi power all with my brain, and insight.”
“Where are we going?” Artemis asked. She saw farther down the corridor more chrome finished doors.
“You’ve seen my farm,” Dr. Demetrius said. “This is my lab area, but now, I’ll show you where I keep all my children to grow before I share them with the farm.”
“Children?” Artemis asked.
Dr. Demetrius patted Artemis on her shoulder.
“In a way,” Dr. Demetrius said.
They stopped in front of a tall refrigerator looking door. Dr. Demetrius pulled open a side panel, he slipped on latex gloves and opened a sealed packet. He gave Artemis a pair of gloves and an identical packet.
“We need to suit up,” Dr. Demetrius said. “Cover your shoes, and put on this germ proof suit.”
“Ah, respirator time again,” Artemis said.
“Quite,” Dr. Demetrius said. He put on the pale green suit, hooded his head, positioned his protective glasses, and respirator while Artemis did the same. He carefully examined Artemis, and inspected her respirator and any potential coverage gaps. “Good, you’re covered, now we can enter.”
Artemis thought he sounded like a deep throated space alien, and looked like a 1950’s B movie actor.
“You aren’t kidding around,” Artemis said.
“No I am not,” Dr. Demetrius said. He pressed in a passcode hidden within a covered side chamber. “This door will open, and then you will be in the presence of my children. Do touch any surface, anything, do you understand?”
“Yes,” Artemis said. She waited for the door to open as Dr. Demetrius stepped back from the door.
The door released the locking mechanism, and once again it sounded like a last gasp. A water mist was being sprayed over a round platform that Dr. Demetrius walked onto, as he held up his arms briefly, and then waved for Artemis to follow his example.
“I try to keep as much contamination out, as possible,” Dr. Demetrius said. Artemis followed him farther into the room. “But spores, fungi, they are quite aggressive and microscopic.”
“It’s eerily quiet in here,” Artemis said.
“Yes,” Dr. Demetrius said. “In a way, inside this low light, my experiments are in their infant stage, just beginning to grow and to form.”
“You have them all sealed off?” Artemis said.
“Not quite,” Dr. Demetrius said. “We filter the oxygen as best we can, nothing escapes this room, but, it’s not perfectly closed loop.”
“When do you expose them to bacteria?” Artemis said.
“Smart girl,” Dr. Demetrius said. He pointed farther down toward another laboratory area within the center of the chambered rooms. “Down there, we take bacteria, some are quite dangerous, there we share mushroom varietals, and then, we wait.”
Artemis looked at the empty laboratory that was surrounded by sealed mushroom lockers. It looked almost like a room for a detective to interrogate a criminal.
“Place a dish with the bacteria on the table,” Artemis said. “And, one of these?”
“Exactly,” Dr. Demetrius said. He looked up and down the hallway at his experiments. “If my children kill the bacteria, I know I’m discovering, altering slightly its gnome, the mycelia become stronger, resistant.”
Artemis remembered the helpless lamb from the forest. She looked at a long line of emerging mushrooms.
“How do you fertilize them?” Artemis asked. She closed her eyes as she was certain she would not get a truthful answer, but she was certain she had discovered the truth. “They need more than just moisture.”
“Ah, you have as the cliché,” Dr. Demetrius said. “A green thumb?”
“I liked to grow my own food,” Artemis said. She crossed her arms as she sensed her heart beat. “Not in downtown St. Pete, not an option, but, I wish I could.”
“Smart girl,” Dr. Demetrius said, suspiciously. “Always know the source, its where the magic happens.”
“You have a vast array of mushrooms growing inside,” Artemis said. “What’s your secret?”
“Now, now Artemis, I’ll perhaps let you know that some day,” Dr. Demetrius said. “But consider, with the discovery of new antibiotics, or better, someday I’ll influence the mycelia to create human organs, we’d alter humanity.”
“I see, you have a vast mind for these things,” Artemis said. And she sensed Laina’s mother was nearby. “It’s what we eat.”
“Exactly, it’s really the mycelia, they are voracious, it’s the saprotrophic fungi, they allow the world to grow, by eliminating the dead,” Dr. Demetrius said. He shifted, and turned around walking toward the exit door. “Let’s get out of here, my children need quiet time, they need to feed.”
“I never ever have seen such a thing,” Artemis said, quietly.
“Artemis, it’s like a government, or a religion, think about it,” Dr. Demetrius said. He started to walk. “It’s in front of you, it’s obvious, but what it’s really doing, is hidden underground, it slowly eats away your soul, it alters society without firing a shot.”
“You are a mysterious man,” Artemis said. Behind her respirator and protective eyeglasses, she was blank faced, puzzled by all the emotions and thoughts that we now crowded into the same space within her mind. “What am I to do about these claims, you have a lot of dead patients.”
“Oh, I see, back to your investigation,” Dr. Demetrius said. He huffed. “I’m not a lawyer, but they need evidence, I don’t think they have any evidence, do they?”
“Not yet,” Artemis said.
“That’s your job,” Dr. Demetrius said. “To protect my loves and the hospitals interests, right?”
“Yes,” Artemis said.
And from a place beyond reason, from beyond space and time, Artemis heard Satan laughing at her.
End. Chapter 21.
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