I robot to protect book.., p.17

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 17


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  John guessed, “Freud again?”

  Susan smiled. “Jean Piaget, this time. In the preoperational stage, a child acts in the realm of magical thinking. Everything revolves around her. My patient truly believes she directly caused the accident that killed her father, apparently because of something she said.”

  “Hence the silence?”

  Susan nodded. “But if we can advance her to the operational stage and allow her to relive the situation as the twelve-year-old, near adult she currently is …” She let her father finish.

  “She might come to realize she did not cause the accident, thus lessening her anxiety.”

  “Right.” Susan frowned. “Except for one problem.”

  “Which is?”

  “I think something she said did cause the accident.”

  John reeled backward a bit. “That does complicate the matter.”

  “I’m still hoping, if we can get her to look at the situation in a more mature way, she may at least realize she is not entirely to blame. Multiple decisions and events came together to cause that accident. That might be enough to snap her out of the conversion reaction so we can start some effective psychotherapy for the guilt.” Susan ran through some considerations that had come to her in the charting room. “If we can at least get her to realize her words aren’t literally toxic, we may open the way for effective treatment.”

  “And how do you propose to do that?”

  “I’m working something out with Nate.”

  “Nate?” John’s face fairly split open with obvious joy. “I’m so glad you’re finding an effective use for him. If it works, don’t keep it secret.”

  “All right.” Now that she had completely dispelled the sorrow she had forced on him by asking questions about her mother’s death, Susan attempted to cheer him even further. “Nate and I are working on another project together. A research project with Ari Goldman and Cody Peters involving nanorobot technology.”

  The grin disappeared as abruptly as it had come. “You’re on the nanorobot project?”

  “Uh-huh. Cool, isn’t it?”

  John Calvin’s fingers threaded through one another in obvious discomfort. “It’s a great project, but …”

  Susan waited for him to finish the thought. When he did not, she prodded. “But what? It seems amazing.”

  “Amazing,” John repeated, with little of Susan’s enthusiasm. “Yes, but a bit … dangerous.”

  Susan supposed injecting anything into the cerebrospinal fluid brought the risk of injury or infection. Anytime particles were introduced directly into circulatory fluids, the risk of thromboses, sludging, and rejection arose. She felt certain the researchers had considered all of those risks and decreased them as much as the experiment allowed. She looked at her father, the concern in his eyes, the worried creases in his face, and realized he had meant something quite different with his warning. “Dangerous? In what way?”

  “The Society for Humanity.”

  Susan almost laughed. He’s concerned about those protestors?

  “They may seem harmless, but they can mount a startling offense when pushed.”

  Susan did not doubt him. “They have a legal injunction against treating the patient we’ve been talking about. I know they’re serious and organized. But dangerous?”

  “Dangerous.” John stressed the word. “If they feel pushed, they will stoop to murder. The same way a few of the most rabid and fanatical of the antiabortionists slaughtered doctors in the late twentieth century. The way the Weather Underground attempted to blow up government buildings with the workers still in them. People wholly committed to a single agenda do not always act in a rational fashion.”

  Susan appreciated that pharmaceutical abortions had taken doctors wholly out of the crosshairs. Now, people who needed the procedure could order the necessary preparations from the privacy of their own computers. They shipped in unmarked packages, and those who disagreed with the process had no central location to protest. “Assuming they even know about the study —”

  “They’ll know.”

  “They’re not going to target the equivalent of a janitor. Killing the person who does the scut work isn’t going to postpone the project for a second.”

  “But if you’re in the room when they go after the others, they’ll kill you, too.”

  Susan could scarcely believe the discussion had gone this far. “Dad, you’re being ridiculous. Goldman and Peters have done about a thousand studies, including, according to them, all of the medical ones involving the use of robotics. They’re a common target of protestors; I’ll give you that. But no one has tried to murder them.”


  The qualifier seemed unnecessary. “Fine, ‘yet.’ Just like I haven’t sprouted a tail … yet.” Susan studied her father’s face, waiting for the realization of how ridiculous he sounded, watching for the wrinkles to smooth. “Dad?”

  Gradually, John Calvin’s features returned to normal, and he even managed a tight smile. “Perhaps I am going overboard. Just promise me you’ll be careful.”

  It seemed to mean so much to him, Susan could hardly refuse. “I promise.”

  Chapter 13

  A casual aura accompanied Friday rounds, as most of the residents looked forward to their first chance at substantial downtime. On the weekend, everyone would come in early to stabilize patients and have a short rounds. Then only the on-call resident would remain, Clayton on Saturday and Susan on Sunday. Susan did not mind. The six-day call rotation would mean she worked next Saturday as well, but that would open up her next six weekends. She had always preferred to get the hard stuff out of the way early rather than have it hovering overhead.

  Aside from the occasional personal tirade, Dr. Kevin Bainbridge demanded orderly rounds. On Monday, Susan had presented her patients first simply because she had taken call that night. Since then, Bainbridge continued to have the residents present their patients in the same order: Susan, then Kendall, Sable, Monk, and Nevaeh last. It seemed more than coincidence that they always tended to run out of time when Nevaeh started talking about some outlandish fad diet or described some new article in Holistic You.

  To Susan’s surprise, Bainbridge was not nearly as rigid as she had expected. He had no difficulty accepting alternative forms of medicine, so long as the person who presented it brought concrete evidence of scientific testing and results rather than testimonials or half-baked theories or anecdotal stories. Now that Susan had demonstrated two successes, he seemed willing to listen to anything she wished to try, which boded well for the odd request she intended to make.

  Busy with her morning work, Susan had not had a chance to talk with Kendall. As they gathered for rounds, he flashed her a thumbs-up, followed by a jerk of his hand toward Connor Marchik’s room.

  Susan smiled back at Kendall.

  The moment Susan arrived, Bainbridge waved for her to begin, and she obliged. “Starling Woodruff was discharged yesterday from the Neurosurgery service.”

  On the outskirts of rounds, several smiling nurses bobbed their heads.

  Susan continued. “Diesel Moore will go home today with outpatient follow-up in two weeks.” She looked directly at Bainbridge. “I’d like permission to take one of my other patients off the unit.”

  A spattering of applause followed the question, which startled Susan. Bainbridge gave the nurses a sour look from beneath his glasses. “This is rounds, not a performance.”

  The grins disappeared, and red tinged several cheeks. One of the older nurses spoke for the rest. “We’re sorry, Doctor. It’s just that Dr. Calvin met with Sharicka’s parents yesterday. They’ve been reluctant to take their daughter on a home visit, and we’re just happy she’s talked them into it. It would be wonderful to discharge the poor little girl.”

  “Discharge!” The word was startled from Susan, and she spoke it too loud. “To juvie or Mars?”

  It was the first inappropriate thing Susan had exclaimed at rounds, and it resulted in utter
silence. She thought it best to apologize before anyone else found his tongue. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s just that I can’t believe anyone could speak casually about discharging Sharicka Anson. Especially the day after she attempted another murder.”

  The nurses all started talking at once, but the upshot seemed to be they had no idea of the incident to which Susan referred. “Don’t you all remember the Heimlich Alicia had to perform on Kamaria Natchez?”

  The silence continued, but all eyes rested directly on Susan now. One voice came through the crowd. “You’re blaming that on a four-year-old?”

  Susan reached into her pocket, pulled out the piece of red balloon, and dropped it on the desktop. “That’s the culprit. Shortly before Kamaria choked, I saw Sharicka hovering around the medicine cups. Shortly before that, she was skipping around the unit with a red balloon.” Susan spread her hands to signify the conclusion was obvious.

  The owner of the single voice stepped forward, a nurse named Shaden. “That’s pretty circumstantial evidence.”

  Susan could not deny it. “Yes. But when I put it together with this” — she hefted her palm-pross, then set it down for all to see — “the hospital records of one Misty Anson, Sharicka’s sister, I get the full story. Misty spent months in the PICU after a near drowning Sharicka confessed to.”

  Shaden had become Sharicka’s staunch defender. “I think her father put her up to that.”

  Kendall entered the fray. “Drowning her sister?”

  Shaden gave him a disgusted look. “Admitting to the crime. He knew they wouldn’t jail a little girl, so he asked her to cop to it.”

  Susan rolled her eyes. “You think a father deliberately tried to drown one of his daughters, then got the other committed to a long-term, locked psychiatry unit.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because it doesn’t make any sense.”

  Shaden had a theory. “Let’s say the father was trying to force the first daughter to do something by submerging her. It got out of hand. When he realized he had almost killed her, he blamed Sharicka.”

  Susan pretended to accept the premise for the purpose of demonstrating its ludicrous aspects. “So he chooses to ‘submerge’ her in a bucket in broad daylight in a neighbor’s yard? Then he calls 911. Within five minutes, he has an alternative story and has trained Sharicka to comply with it.”

  “It’s not impossible.”

  Susan added to the coincidences, hoping the theory would grow so unwieldy, it toppled for everyone in the room at once. “Another time, he beat their son with a bat at three a. m., got the boy to blame it on his little sister, and also got Sharicka to take the blame for that?”

  Shaden shrugged. “It’s certainly more believable than a four-year-old dragging her older, bigger sister to a neighbor’s house to deliberately drown her. An abusive father might turn on any or all of his children. Perhaps they were so afraid of more beatings, they went along with his story.”

  Susan did not get into the fact that no other injuries appeared on the Ansons’ other children or on Sharicka herself. Other than the young fosters, no reports of abuse had come from that household before or since that time. She had more than enough ammunition. “And the strangling of an autistic child in the therapeutic foster home?”

  Shaden’s protests came slower and less vehemently. “We have only the foster mother’s word on that.”

  “Mmm.” Susan accepted his explanation. “And the incident in the bathroom with one of our kids? And the staff member? And Kamaria?” Susan looked at each of the nurses in turn. “Poor Sharicka. She’s just a magnet for getting blamed for other people’s attempted murders. Six times by seven different accusers. What blind bad luck.”

  Out of arguments, Shaden could only say, “She’s four years old, and a sweeter child you couldn’t find.”

  Susan wanted to complete Shaden’s sentence with “In all the levels of hell,” but she doubted Bainbridge would appreciate the humor.

  Dr. Bainbridge took over. “I realize this is a pediatrics unit, but we shouldn’t lose professionalism in our compassion. I’m giving everyone who works on this unit an assignment: Write a one-page paper on how a person with antisocial personality disorder uses ‘charm and wit’ to manipulate others. It’s a hallmark of the condition.”

  Shaden had no choice but to step back, although he did add one piece. “You can’t diagnose antisocial in children.”

  Dr. Bainbridge did not argue the point. “Which is odd, because the diagnosis requires that the symptoms start in childhood.” He looked around the nursing staff, most of whom appeared either chastened or ready to explode. No one liked being chided by a superior, especially about something that aroused such strong feelings. “Antisocials have an uncanny feel for social situations and an extraordinary ability to manipulate people’s emotions. Anyone in psychiatry who denies falling prey to one at some point has either never treated one or is a bald-faced liar.”

  “With all due respect, Dr. Bainbridge.” This time, one of the female nurses took Sharicka’s side. “She’s four years old. How much can she even know about influencing adults?”

  Another of the nurses laughed. “Clearly, Calida, you don’t have any children. When my daughter was four, she had her father and grandparents wrapped around her little finger. There is nothing in the world more capable of manipulation than a preschool child.”

  Bainbridge made a gesture that implied he had proven his case.

  Susan had heard enough about Sharicka Anson. For now, she appreciated that she had not managed to run into the girl on her first day. Had she not become focused on Starling’s A-V malformation and Diesel’s syndrome, she might have gotten snared by Sharicka’s superficial charm. Instead, she had had the opportunity to watch the child in secret, which had allowed her to see things she otherwise would have missed. To know Sharicka was to watch her actions without preconceived notions or personal interaction.

  Susan returned the conversation to its long-lost starting point. “If no one objects, I’d like to try assigning only female nurses to Monterey Zdrazil for a while. Presumably because of some issue with her father, she seems to respond better to women.”

  Several of the nurses nodded silently. No one seemed to take umbrage, and one even added, “I’d noticed that myself.”

  Susan continued. “And I’d like permission to take her off the unit.” It was an odd request. Usually, taking a child from the PIPU was a prerogative reserved for parents and guardians.

  Bainbridge rested his buttocks against a desk. “Where do you plan to take her?”

  “I’d like to commandeer one of those car-gurneys they use on the peds unit and take Monterey to visit the resident robot.”

  Whispers suffused the group, but they all waited for Bainbridge’s response. The attending’s face bunched in confusion. “The resident robot? I thought they dismantled that thing.”

  The idea rankled. “No, sir! What a horrible thought.”

  Susan’s vehement answer drew curious looks, but Bainbridge took it in stride.

  “I’m not saying they should. Just that I hadn’t heard ‘boo’ about it for years. People objected, they took it out of commission, and it disappeared.”

  “He’s still working,” Susan announced, unable to use the gender-neutral pronoun on someone as obviously male and sentient as Nate. “And, since Monterey lost her father, I thought it might help for her to get to know a man who’s not mortal.” There was more to her plan, but she did not want to elaborate on it yet. She did not want to raise hopes until she felt more confident it would work.

  Monk added his piece. “Far be it from me to question a doctor with your history of success, but doesn’t it seem a bit ironic to take a virtual robot and bring it to visit … well, a literal robot?”

  Several of the nurses bobbed their heads in agreement.

  Susan had anticipated people clambering all over her to learn about the robot in their midst, so Monk’s line of questioning took her by surprise. She answered l
amely, “Why not? Nothing else has worked.”

  Bainbridge hopped up onto the desk. “Why not, indeed? Make it happen.” He glanced at his Vox. “And as we seem to have wasted a perfectly good fifteen minutes, you’re excused to upstairs. I promised you to Goldman and Peters.”

  “Thank you.” Susan glanced around but had nothing to gather. The researchers would have their own palm-prosses upstairs. Without another word, she headed out of the staffing room.

  The procedure room in the research towers was a cold, sterile white. Rarely used, it appeared brand-new, the countertops clean and flawless, the steel taps and cupboard handles gleaming. Payton Flowers swayed on the sheeted table, watching Susan’s every move, his manner definitively odd. His parents and sister sat in plastic chairs along the wall. A towel was wrapped around Susan’s equipment, its bright orange color signifying its successful passage through the purifier.

  Susan knew from his chart that Payton was thirty-five years old. His short blond hair lay neatly combed, his nails properly clipped, and his face freshly shaven. He wore a standard hospital gown, which brought to mind one of Kendall’s quips: “The only garb in the world that’s rated G in the front and X in the back.” Despite his cleanliness, the patient gave off an aura that set every nerve jangling. Susan could not explain it. She felt unsafe, hunted, as if the patient might leap from the table at any moment to chew out her throat. Payton Flowers seemed to radiate some sort of ions that told her, in no uncertain terms, to go away. Although she relished her part in the project, she wanted to be anywhere other than where she was.

  Susan addressed Payton directly. “Good morning, Mr. Flowers. Do you know what brought you here today?”

  Payton studied her like a snake examines prey. She almost expected his tongue to flick out, forked and testing. “I walked.” His speech emerged pressured, separated into strange bursts, oddly enunciated, and a bit slurred. “Ninety-three billion miles.”

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