I robot to protect book.., p.14

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 14

 

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1
 



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  Kendall closed the palm-pross. “I didn’t think I was doing that. I tried joking around with him.”

  “Did you tell him any jokes about … death?”

  Kendall’s expression crumpled, as though he believed Susan had gone stark raving mad. “Of course not. I’m not an insensitive boob.”

  “Look,” Susan said, “Connor doesn’t have time for pussyfooting. He wants a doctor who’ll give it to him straight. Someone he can trust to always tell the truth, even if the news is bad.”

  “For example …?”

  “What would you say if he asked why he’s stuck on the PIPU?”

  “Well … um …”

  “Wrong!”

  Kendall screwed up his freckled face. “Wrong? I haven’t even said anything yet.”

  “You said, ‘Well … um …,’ which means you’re thinking of a delicate answer. Connor doesn’t want a thought-mangled fantasy world; he wants the straight truth.”

  “All right.” Kendall turned his focus fully on Susan. “What would you say to him?”

  Susan did not hesitate. “You’re stuck here because you’re acting like an ass.”

  Kendall stared. “Susan, I might be wrong about this; you are the child psychiatry messiah and all. But I was under the impression that insulting and swearing at dying children is frowned upon in polite society.”

  “This isn’t polite society,” Susan insisted. “It’s the hospital. Life and death aren’t polite topics.”

  “But swearing at a child?”

  “He’s not a child. He’s a teenager. Most teens go through a stage when they feel the need to swear as much as possible, at least among themselves. It’s like they have to roll the words around their mouths a few thousand times before they pack them away in preparation for responsible adulthood.”

  Kendall studied Susan with a look of dubious hope. “So, I should be direct, even to the point of swearing.”

  “Yup.”

  “Research Ganuto Hiro in the hope of a conversation, or even a game.”

  “Yup.”

  “What else?”

  “The kid —”

  “Young man,” Kendall reminded her.

  Susan smiled. “The young man’s a virgin with about two months to live, right?”

  Kendall’s expression grew downright uncomfortable. “Ye-eah.”

  “So, he has cancer, not plague. He’s not contagious. He should be out there finding a sympathetic girl and humping her till his liver dissolves to a toxic puddle of goo.”

  “Susan!” Dr. Bainbridge’s voice cut over the conversation.

  Startled silent, Susan clutched her chest, worried her heart might have stopped. She whirled, expecting to find him right behind her.

  Bainbridge waved at her from a row of tables away. Apparently, he had not overheard the conversation; he had merely shouted her name to get her attention.

  A shiver of relief traversed Susan, and she could hear Kendall chuckling at her back. She hurried toward the attending, meeting him halfway. “Yes, sir?” she asked timidly, still worried he might have heard something untoward.

  Bainbridge spoke in a booming voice the other occupants of the staffing area could not help overhearing, including the nurses, desk clerks, and the other residents. “I’ve been approached by Goldman and Peters.”

  Susan had heard of them. Lead researchers at Manhattan Hasbro, Ari Goldman and Cody Peters authored an enormous number of articles in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatry, and Psychiatric Annals. She knew they had discovered two forms of schizophrenia, helped uncover a genetic defect in a common familial form of bipolar illness, and paved the way for a new class of antipsychotics, now in common use.

  Bainbridge lowered his voice a bit. “They’re working on a fresh project and need the help of a psychiatry resident.”

  Although she knew any resident would serve as the low man on the totem pole, the doer of all “scut” work, at least the name of said resident would appear on any research paper that came out of the experiment. Listed last, of course, but still an amazing feat for any R-1. Susan’s heart rate quickened again. If Bainbridge had recommended her, he had granted her a remarkable opportunity; but she also realized the older residents might consider it a grave insult. Stony and Clayton deserved it far more than she did.

  “They asked specifically for you, Susan.”

  The objections died in her throat. Susan could hardly suggest others if the researchers had requested her by name. “Me, sir?” Surprise sent her voice an octave higher. She cleared her throat. “They asked for me?”

  “They asked for you,” Bainbridge confirmed. “Apparently, word of your competence has spread.” He seemed personally proud, as if his invaluable training had created her and the choice was a personal compliment.

  “That’s a great honor,” Susan said.

  “Yes,” Bainbridge agreed proudly. “I told them they could have you, as long as it doesn’t affect your work here. I figured with only two patients, and no impending admissions, you could accomplish both. Assuming you want to work with them, of course.” He looked so hopeful, Susan could not imagine saying no.

  “I …,” Susan started. She looked around to find all her colleagues staring, awaiting her words. “Do you know what their project entails?”

  “No idea,” Bainbridge admitted. “But they’re the leading researchers here. Working with Goldman and Peters is a rare honor. It’s sure to be something brilliant.”

  Susan had already figured that. She tried to find the words that would leave the way open without insulting the researchers or Bainbridge, or further inciting her fellow residents. “I’m very pleased, of course. But I want to be absolutely sure it won’t interfere with my responsibilities on the unit. Would you mind if I visited with them sometime and held the decision until afterward?”

  “Room 713. Seventh floor, Hassenfeld Research Tower. You’re excused from rounds to head up there now.”

  Susan accepted the invitation, from curiosity and from the need to escape the scrutiny. She had no intention of deliberately failing, or refusing an invaluable opportunity, just to appease people jealous of her good fortune. She had always followed the responsible course in the past, and she intended to do so the remainder of her life. “Thank you, sir. My patients are stable, with nothing new to report.” With that, she headed off the unit, accompanied by a key-carrying nurse who wished her well at the outer door.

  Susan had never been to the research towers. Few residents ever got the opportunity to participate, and those who did were nearly always chief residents, who dedicated an extra year to learning and teaching. The elevator doors opened to the mingled odors of cleaners, cedar chips, and the distinctive musk of rats. Through the years, researchers had genetically modified the rodents to approximate nearly every human disease state. Also, few protestors worried about the humane treatment of rats the way they did for primates, dogs, cats, and other cuter critters.

  The cinder block walls of the older research towers barely resembled the patient areas, where paintings covered every wall and glass-encased craft projects and collectible toys filled every alcove. Here, the furnishings remained sparse, the rooms containing solid lab tables and light metal chairs that moved easily through the confines as needed.

  Susan stopped in front of room 713. Labeled PSYCHIATRY LABORATORY, it gave no hint of the stunning brilliance inside, looking no different from any other room on the floor. Through the leaded glass window, Susan caught a glimpse of a desk covered with papers and a spattering of chairs, but she would have had to crane her neck to see the entire room. Not wishing to get caught bobbing around like a spy, she knocked.

  “Come in,” a friendly voice called.

  Susan opened the door. The smells of rubbing alcohol and burnt paper wafted through the crack. Pushing the door all the way open, she entered, letting it spring closed behind her.

  Room 713 closely resembled all the other research facilities on the seventh floor. Four large desks, pu
shed together, filled most of the room, with several metal chairs left in various locations around them. A solitary wooden desk sat in a corner, apart from the others. A man sat on a plush rolling office chair in front of it. He had coarse brown hair that rose and fell across the top of his head like waves. Horizontal lines scored his forehead, and he chewed savagely on the end of an eraser.

  At the opposite end of the room, a tall, skinny man held a burning piece of paper over one of the laboratory desks. He looked up, smiling, as Susan entered. He had unkempt auburn hair, a matching mustache, and a long, crooked nose.

  As the man watched her, Susan focused on the flames creeping ever closer to his fingers. “Your fingers,” she finally called out, just as the fire reached them.

  The younger man leapt to his feet, dropping the paper, where it burned to ash on the tabletop. The other man finally looked up as well, still apparently oblivious to his companion’s distress. “Can we help you?”

  Susan stepped forward to greet him. Before she could speak, the skinny man said, “Don’t be absurd, Ari. That’s Susan Calvin. Don’t you notice the resemblance?”

  Now the older man’s face split into a grin as well. “Susan Calvin.” He rose and held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

  Susan hurried to clasp the hand of the man who must be Dr. Ari Goldman. She did not want to leave him standing long with his fingers in midair. He had a firm, dry handshake she attempted to emulate. “Yes, I’m Susan.” She tried to make sense of the taller man’s comment. “Have you met my father?”

  “Many times,” Ari said, his voice as gruff as his appearance. “When there’s a robot study to be done, we get it. That’s why we chose you to help us. Figured you’d have the knowledge and the interest.”

  Susan loosed a pent-up breath she did not even realize she had been holding. She appreciated they had not selected her solely because of her success with two patients. At some point, though, she would have to tell them she had developed an interest in robots only since meeting Nate and she knew very little about her father’s business.

  “That’s Ari Goldman.” The tall man took over for his partner, who had neglected the introductions. “So, of course, I’m Cody Peters.”

  “Of course.” Susan had seen only their names, never their pictures. “You’ve worked together for many years. Your names top an insane number of articles.”

  Cody laughed. “Insane, indeed. Twenty years now, and he’s driven me there more than a few times.”

  Ari’s brows rose. “I’ve driven you? You’re the one burning crappy data rather than just tossing it into the recycler.”

  Cody Peters continued to smile but gave no other reply. Susan could already tell that, of the two, he would have the more irritating mannerisms. He was probably also the more fun. He walked over to one of the laboratory desks, produced a key, and opened a vault with it. He pulled out a test tube with a thick, greenish liquid and held it up to the light for all to see.

  While he did that, Ari turned his attention to a door Susan had assumed was a closet. As he opened it, she could see a small room. A human figure stepped through, one she recognized immediately.

  “Nate!”

  Nate’s head swiveled toward her, and he grinned. “Susan!”

  Still holding the test tube, Cody looked over at the pair. “Well, well, well. You already know each other. That ruins the surprise.”

  “Of course they know each other,” Ari grumbled. “Why wouldn’t they? Her father probably put him together, piece by piece, in their living room.”

  Susan laughed. “Nate and I met here, at the hospital. My father has never been very open with me about his work.” That needed to come out before the researchers expected her to act like an authority on robotics.

  Nate added, “And she’s been either fascinated with me or in love with me ever since. She visits me a lot downstairs.” He smiled to show her he was only kidding. “And I like it.”

  Ari ignored the teasing to explain. “Nate hasn’t gotten to show off his paces much, but we find him invaluable. We’re not the only ones, either. If people could get past their silly prejudices, we’d have a whole robot workforce and a lot to show for it.”

  Cody cleared his throat, still hefting the test tube. “Do you know what this is?”

  Ari gave Cody a quizzical look. “Of course I know what it is. It’s —”

  Cody interrupted. “Not you, you moron. I’m talking to Susan.”

  Ari scowled.

  “Oh.” Susan glanced at Nate from the corner of her eye, hoping he could help her. When he did not, she admitted, “I have absolutely no idea.”

  “It’s greenish liquid,” Cody announced.

  Ari gave him another look.

  Susan played along. “I can see that. I’m just wondering what’s in that greenish liquid.” She figured he must want her to guess. “Is it some sort of infectious bacteria? A fungus, perhaps?”

  “Not even close.” Cody lowered the tube, placed it back into its vault, and relocked it. “I’ll give you a hint. It’s worth ten million dollars a vial.”

  Susan still had no idea. “Um … designer narcotics? Liquid fame?”

  Ari had tired of the game. “Say ‘diamondoid nanorobots.’”

  Susan wasn’t wholly sure she could. “Diamondoid nanorobots.”

  Cody snorted with enthusiasm. “We have a winner. Diamondoid nanorobots, the newest treatment for refractory mental illnesses.”

  Susan could only stare. “Are you saying that greenish liquid contains itty-bitty robots?”

  “Itty-bitty robots,” Cody confirmed, “with the ability to police chemicals and neurological connections. Injected into the spine, they scatter through the brain, recording electrical pulses and interplay, finding aberrant neural pathways, testing circulating blood and cerebrospinal fluid components, measuring quantities and locations of neurotransmitters. After a week or so, we remove the nanorobots and have them analyzed by computers. That allows us to directly target individual therapy for psychopathology refractory to standard treatments.”

  Susan could only stare. If this was true, science had taken a gigantic leap just since she had graduated medical school two months earlier. “Really?” She wished she had had a much closer look at the greenish liquid.

  “Theoretically,” Ari said before Cody could reply. “It’s passed the preclinical trials, at least as much as we can test it given the current … political climate. And when I say ‘political,’ I mean ‘stupid.’”

  Though she had never directly participated in a research study, Susan knew the preclinical phase involved laboratory testing on non-living objects and animals, when possible.

  Cody shrugged. “As you can see, Ari doesn’t have much patience for the animal rights crowd.”

  Ari corrected him. “I don’t have much patience for radicals of any stripe, left or right. On the one hand, we have zealots committing murder under a pro-life banner. Pro-life? Please. On the other, we have nutcases breaking into labs, destroying decades of research on medications that could save thousands of lives, in order to throw animals into the wild, where they promptly die of predation, starvation, and hypothermia in the name of ‘saving’ them.”

  “So let me guess,” Susan said. “The preclinical trials did not include much animal testing.”

  Cody winced, clearly concerned Susan’s innocent question would trigger another tirade. He answered quickly, before Ari could. “Enough to get us to Phase One, which was all we needed.” He said it sternly, as if to remind his fellow researcher. “USR really didn’t want to risk losing ten million dollars in investments in the brains of pigs and chimps, so it worked out just fine for everyone.”

  Susan longed to study the greenish liquid again. Logically, she knew she would not see the actual robots; anything on a nanometer level required a microscope. Yet, just knowing the substance contained swarms of mechanical beings programmed to assist humanity intrigued her.

  “Fine,” Ari grumbled, “until the so-ca
lled Society for Humanity gets wind of it. They’ll ring this place so tightly, we’ll need helicopters just to get to work.”

  Susan looked at Nate, who smiled back at her. He had remained so quiet, she had nearly forgotten he was there. “Are they really that organized?”

  Ari only snorted. Cody gave her a wide-eyed look. “You, of all people, should know. If not for the SFH, we’d have eighty Nates in this place instead of old-fashioned candy stripers and nursing aides. Medical students and residents could focus solely on patients and studies, with robots to do their scut work. Medical mistakes would become so rare, we’d forget the words ‘iatrogenic’…”

  Cody cringed.

  “… and ‘malpractice.’”

  “Quit swearing!”

  Susan laughed.

  Ari grunted. “Don’t get too comfortable with the joking. When it comes to research, we’re both dead serious.”

  Cody shrugged, bobbing his head from side to side.

  It was a deliberately contradictory gesture, and Susan had to suppress a smile. “I’m just honored to work with such renowned … and serious researchers.” She added “serious” for Ari’s benefit. “I suppose I get the honor of writing down your observations?”

  The researchers exchanged looks. Cody addressed the question. “Actually, Nate can do all that. We want you to review charts and help us select patients. Also, you’ll be doing the lumbar punctures. When it comes to penetrating the cerebrospinal fluid,” he confessed, “we’re a bit rusty.”

  The idea enticed her. Some residents despised procedures, whereas others relished them and could not get enough. Susan fell somewhere in the middle. Psychiatry did not have a lot of hands-on opportunities, and Susan liked the thought of getting in some practice. Here, being fresh out of medical school helped. She had done her share of lumbar punctures, withdrawing the fluid to check for imbalances, disease markers, cells, and infections on medical rotations. “Understandable.” She hoped her tone made it clear she had no problem with the request. “Timewise, I’ll still be able to handle my ward duties, right?”

 

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