I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 12
Nate did not hesitate. “Family history? Maybe …”
“Von Hippel-Lindau,” they said together, then laughed.
Spotting Susan, they went silent.
“Good morning,” she said cheerily.
“Good morning, Susan,” they replied, still simultaneously. Then, they looked at each other and laughed again.
Susan perched on the arm of Remington’s chair. “You’re scaring me.”
“He’s amazing,” Remington admitted. “Makes me wonder how many thinking robots we already have on staff. Some of the guys I work with don’t show any emotion at all.”
“I’m the only humanoid robot at Hasbro,” Nate said. “I cost in the range of one hundred million dollars. And I do show emotions, when it’s appropriate.”
“So you figured it out on your own.” Susan had not expected Remington to identify Nate so quickly. Nate had told her his status almost immediately, but he had recognized her name and knew she had the family robotics background to believe him. “And you know it’s true?”
“Given our prior conversation at the restaurant, finding him here after ten p. m. yesterday and before seven a. m. today was a dead giveaway.”
Nate smiled. “I’d like to point out you were also here after ten p. m. yesterday and before seven a. m. today.”
Susan sucked in her lips, but she knew her eyes revealed her amusement.
“Well, yes,” Remington admitted. “But I can’t peel off the skin of my leg and reveal circuitry wrapped around my muscles, can I?”
Susan could not resist teasing, “Can you?” Nate had not given her the same amount of proof; she had not required it.
Remington reached for Susan’s hand, caught it, and gave it a squeeze. “How about I prove it after our date on Friday?”
Susan could not recall making one. “Do we have a date on Friday?”
“I guess that’s up to you.”
Susan clasped Remington’s fingers. “Friday, it is. How’s Starling?”
“Great.” Remington rose, released her hand, and looked at his Vox. “They moved her from intensive recovery to the regular unit this morning. I’d stop down today if you want to see her before she leaves.”
“Today?” Susan could scarcely believe it. “You mean discharge? Home? Already?”
“I told you we’re quick.” Remington shrugged. “No reason to keep her.” He tapped the Vox. “I have to go. If I’m late for rounds, I’ll get stuck with hole-drilling duty for a week.”
Susan preferred not to know what that entailed. She waved as he rushed out the door, then turned to Nate. “What do you think?”
Nate did not spend long in consideration. “I like him.”
“Me, too,” Susan admitted. “What were you two doing when I came in?”
“Talking neurosurgery.” Nate made a vague gesture toward the books. “You know, I was programmed to perform menial jobs: transporting patients, consent signing, cleanup, surgery prep, hand holding, bed making.”
“Really?” It seemed a ridiculous waste of his brilliance.
“Then, staff started worrying I’d take their places, lawyers speculated a malfunction might drive me berserk, and fear of more protests drove me into seclusion.”
Susan glanced around the large room with its shelving, bric-a-brac, and old-fashioned textbooks. Since she had come here her first night on call, she had developed an appreciation for the quiet nook with its simple table, its clashing chairs, its comfortable couches. She could think of far worse prisons. “So, you … live here?” It seemed altogether the wrong verb for robotic existence. “All the time?”
“Here?” Nate made hand motions to indicate the room. “I’m not a vacuum cleaner stored in a closet, Susan. I spend time in the research tower, when I’m working on a project. I can move about freely within the hospital, if I choose. I just happen to like it here. It’s quiet, so no one bothers me. It’s full of computers and books, adjacent to the central processing area. The only people who come here are residents hiding from work, attendings, or other residents when they find a few moments to spare. And, of course, those few, like you and Remy, who know to look for me here.”
Susan had not yet figured it out. “What exactly do you do here?” Then, recalling what he had told her previously of the differing expectations of U. S. Robotics, the hospital administrators, and certain members of the staff, she amended her question. “I mean, I know some of the doctors, mostly researchers, use you as a sounding board, a fact-checker, an assistant. But what do you do all day? What is your basic job?”
“Anything that doesn’t involve patients. I spend most of my time on the computer, searching for charting errors, inconsistencies, mistakes, incomplete notes. Things like that. I transport inanimate objects such as bedding, pillows, and blankets from the laundry to the storage areas.”
“What a waste.”
Nate shrugged. “It leaves me lots of time outside my official duties. I have access to plenty of information. I started with the books and worked my way to the legitimate online medical sites.” He indicated a palm-pross left on the room’s only table. “Since I only have to read or hear things once, it’s easy to stay current. So, when the research staff send articles for me to proofread or ask for help on their projects, I have no trouble assisting them.”
Susan was surprised. “So I’m not the only doctor who visits you?”
Nate grinned. “Just the prettiest.”
To Susan’s surprise, she found herself blushing. “Sweet.” She looked at her own Vox, though the time did not matter. The sooner she headed for the PIPU, the more she could contribute at rounds. “I have to go, now, too. But I’ll come back when I can.”
Nate waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll be counting the hours till your return.”
Amazing, Susan thought as she left. He’s even programmed for flirting and sarcasm.
As Susan trotted toward the PIPU, she realized “programmed” was not the right word. As her father had described it, the positronic brain contained a network of circuitry as complex as the human brain. Nate might have started with some basic programs, the Three Laws of Robotics, for example, and the English language; but he had self-developed the remainder of his personality through thought, intention, and experience.
That latter realization would have floored Susan Calvin, had she not already discussed it with her father. The genius behind the invention had a name, Dr. Lawrence Robertson, the president of U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. He had calculated the necessary data to create a spongy globe of platinum-iridium that replaced miles of relays and photocells and had ultimately become the positronic brain. Someday, Susan hoped, she would meet this supergenius.
Susan hurried to the locked PIPU door and buzzed for entrance. A familiar nurse’s voice came over the intercom system. “Good morning, Dr. Calvin.”
Susan waved in the general direction of the all-but-invisible camera. “Good morning, Saranne. May I come in?”
“On my way.”
The clunky, old-fashioned system of the PIPU never ceased to confound Susan. It seemed foolish to retain a lock system that required a human to physically key through two heavy doors. Apartment buildings had had direct-wired buzzer systems serving dozens of stories since at least her grandmother’s time, and cheap voice, print, or laser identification systems had existed for decades. The best explanation Susan had heard was that any push-button system would become liable to access by patients; coded entries required too-frequent maintenance for staff changes that would result in loss of patient confidentiality. The strong steel doors could withstand attacks that lighter electronic systems could not, and any attempt at tampering would become instantly obvious.
At the least, Susan had to admit the system had worked for longer than two centuries. And the ponderous, gloomy simplicity of it made the whole unit appear equally old.
Susan heard the lock click. The windowless door eased toward her. She
“Thank you,” Susan said. She looked up and noticed the usually gray hallway now held a dozen brightly colored balloons. Several of the nurses and unit staff milled around the area, beneath a banner reading CONGRATULATIONS! Already trained to the rules, Susan scooted inside and let the door slam shut behind her. Saranne relocked it, placing the key in her flowered scrub-shirt pocket.
“Congratulations?” Susan glanced around the smiling group, bewildered. “Thank you. But what have I done to deserve all this?”
Murmurs swept the group, and Saranne slapped Susan’s shoulder approvingly. “Discharge orders for Diesel Moore. Starling Woodruff off the service forever and about to go home from Neurosurgery!”
Someone else called out, “All in your first four days.”
They came at Susan en masse.
The fuss embarrassed Susan. She had never liked being the center of attention. Smiling, bobbing her head, cautiously working her way to the unit door, she turned to face them all. “Thank you so much. I’ll try my very best to live up to your expectations.” She wanted to deflate the excitement, to remind them she had gotten lucky. Both patients had had hidden medical diagnoses that, once exposed, made their treatment so much easier. But doing so might denigrate the residents and attendings who had come before her, those who had not made those same medical diagnoses. She reached for the door handle, knowing she would find it locked.
A male nurse named Jordan unlocked the unit door, while the other staff discussed the dispensation of banner and balloons. They could not allow balloons on the unit for fear some patients might pop them to torment others who had phobias, nightmares, or delusions. Susan headed for the charting area, surprised to receive smiles and applause from the remaining staff as well. She nodded at everyone she saw, then attempted to duck into the staffing area. Before she got there, a small child latched onto her leg.
Susan looked down to see Sharicka. She was not surprised to observe that someone had bent the balloon rule; Sharicka clutched the string of a crimson balloon filled with helium, and she enwrapped Susan’s leg in a deathless embrace. “Dr. Thuzan!” she sang out, with just a hint of a lisp. “Sit with me. Pleeease.”
Susan could not resist the childish tones and apparent sincerity. She sat in one of the plush chairs in the television room, ignoring the movie that seemed to have most of the patients mesmerized.
Sharicka climbed into Susan’s lap, snuggling against her. “You never told me you were my doctor.” She popped a thumb into her mouth, speaking around it. “I was scared I didn’t have a doctor no more.”
In her days observing the young girl, Susan had never seen her suck her thumb before. She wondered what it meant: Was it a conscious or unconscious action, a deliberate ruse, or expression of emotion? Did a four-year-old even have the mental connections and experience to play such intricate games with an adult? “You have a doctor, Sharicka,” Susan said with proper adult reassurance. “I’ve just gotten so busy with other patients, I haven’t had time to get to know you.” She did not mention her silent observations. She did not want to cue Sharicka.
“I heared ya fixed ’em.” Sharicka snuggled even closer. “I wants ya ta fix me, too.”
The baby talk annoyed Susan. She had overheard Sharicka enough times to know she had a more than competent vocabulary.
“Can ya fix me?” Sharicka gazed into Susan’s face with adoration, her eyes so sweet and dark, Susan could not help smiling.
“I don’t know. I’d need your help, Sharicka.”
The little girl’s eyes transformed in that instant. Susan could not have explained the change in any logical or biological manner. It seemed as if the sockets sank to a slant as she watched them, and a bonfire smoldered, deep and unreachable. Those eyes speared through Susan like a physical weapon, painful, terrifying, inhuman. She shivered involuntarily.
Then, just as quickly, they reverted back to the same innocent child eyes Susan had melted for earlier. “I’ll do whatever I gotta do, I pwomise. I’ll take all my meds. I’ll be gooder than good.”
Susan tried to convince herself she had imagined the strange distortion in Sharicka’s appearance. Nothing scientific could explain it, and she believed only in the real and earthly, the provable. Nevertheless, she wanted to get as far away from the child as possible. “That sounds wonderful, Sharicka.” Susan half rose, sliding the girl toward the floor.
Sharicka drew up her feet, refusing to stand. “I want to stay here with you, Dr. Susan.”
“I’m sorry,” Susan said firmly, sliding the girl onto the couch cushion. “I have work to do, but I’ll check on you later.”
Sharicka allowed herself to be placed, though Susan thought she caught another glimpse of the strange light in her face, those weird demon eyes. Repulsed, Susan turned away and headed back toward the staffing room.
The instant Susan entered the staffing area, Kendall caught her arm and guided her to a far corner. “So,” he said, “how was your date with the dreamy eunuch?”
Still focused on Sharicka, Susan was caught off guard. “What?”
“Your date,” Kendall said impatiently. “With the handsome surgeon you castrated.”
Susan finally got it. “I decided he was worthy, so I sewed ’em back on.”
“Really?” Kendall sat, resting his elbow on the table, his chin in his hand. “A surgeon worthy of procreation? You’d better not tell his associates. They’ll throw him out of his residency.”
Susan knocked his arm away, and Kendall had to twitch backward to keep his chin from hitting the table. “Now who’s being a jerk?”
“Me,” Kendall admitted. “But at least I’m not pompous.”
Susan wondered if Kendall reduced everything in his life to a joke.
Kendall changed the subject abruptly, speaking in low tones that did not carry. “Your brilliance is garnering some attention, Calvin.”
Susan did not know exactly how to answer that. “I got lucky with a couple of patients. I don’t understand why everyone’s making such a circus out of it.”
“Because it’s the PIPU.” Kendall looked around to make certain no one had drawn near enough to eavesdrop. Several of the other residents were in the room, reading palm-prosses or dictating notes. Monk Peterson looked at them several times, but no one else seemed to notice them. “Children aren’t hospitalized in locked units unless it’s absolutely necessary. These are the worst of the worst, the sickest of the sick. If they come here, they stay no less than a month, and it’s more often for years. You sent home a lifer and a potential lifer in your first week. That’s nothing shy of mind-blowing.”
“I got lucky,” Susan reiterated firmly, hoping she had just gotten the last word.
“You got brains,” Kendall corrected. “And a skill with old-fashioned, low-tech observation. You used them. That has nothing to do with luck.”
Susan shrugged. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I just did what was best for my patients, and that’s all any of us wants or tries to do.”
Kendall would not let it go. “Yes, but you’re the one who succeeded. I think that’s great. The nurses love you. Dr. Bainbridge is proud to have you on his service; it makes him look good, too. But some of the other residents …”
Susan cringed, certain she did not want to hear what came next. “Our colleagues? What about them?”
“Some of them are jealous.”
“They needn’t be.”
“But they are.”
Susan glanced toward the residents again. They remained mostly in the same places. Only Monk looked away when she caught his eye. She saw a vague impression of a daggered glare before he returned his attention to his screen. “So, what do you want me to do about it? Deliberately mess
Kendall chuckled. “Of course not. You should do exactly what you’re doing, Calvin. Don’t ever let other people’s negative emotions stop you from going on to great things. I’m just warning you to be careful. Not everyone has your best interests at heart.”
That’s sad. She truly did not understand why others might wish her ill simply because she had done well. “That’s crazy and petty and … just plain … stupid.”
“Yes, it is,” Kendall agreed wholeheartedly. “And who understands that better than psychiatry residents?”
Susan flushed. She did not understand it. Perhaps Remington had a point; she did not belong in psychiatry if she found herself flummoxed by something others saw as basic human nature. Yet, even as the thought arose, she found herself intrigued by the reaction Kendall had described. She wanted, in fact needed, to comprehend it; and that only proved she had chosen the right career path. “Why do you suppose they would feel that way?”
Kendall sat, placing both hands loosely in his lap. “If you’ll pardon my psychoanalyzing our colleagues, it’s not that uncommon a reaction for people whose self-esteem derives from being the smartest person in the room. When they get dethroned, they feel uncomfortable and displaced, and it’s not unnatural to harbor anger against a usurper.”
Susan wondered why it never bothered her. She had always felt awed and safe in the presence of genius. Perhaps because my father is one, and he tells me Mother was, too. To me, it’s normal. “Kendall, how come I don’t threaten you?”
Again, Kendall looked around the office, leaning toward Susan and lowering his voice even further. “If you started getting all the laughs, you might. I needed a tutor to make it through college calculus. I graduated in the middle of my medical school class. My sense of worth doesn’t stem from being the smartest person in the room. It comes from cracking jokes. You’re not terribly funny, so you’re no threat to me.”
Susan vowed not to kid around during rounds. She did not need anyone else disliking her.
“And there’s a personality factor, too. Some people feel secure about their self-worth, regardless of the situation. People like Stony. And I don’t think there’s a jealous bone in Clamhead’s body.” He laughed, adding, “The way he flops around, I sometimes wonder if there’re any kinds of bones in his body.”