I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 19
Nate’s grin grew broader. “How do you do?”
Monterey kept staring.
Nate’s smile wilted. “She’s afraid of me.”
Susan wondered what Nate saw. Nothing in Monterey’s body language gave away any emotion. “How do you know?”
“The eyes.” Nate stepped aside to give Susan the same vantage he had. “She doesn’t want to know me. She’s scared.”
Susan imagined she could see a hint of fear in Monterey’s hazel eyes. She hunched down, forcing the girl to meet her gaze. “Monterey, Nate’s not a man. He’s a robot and a very good friend.”
Monterey’s attention flicked immediately to Nate. Susan had never seen any part of the child move that fast. The girl studied the robot, the discomfort disappearing, replaced by confusion and uncertainty. She clearly did not believe it.
“Show her,” Susan said softly.
Nate dropped his bottom down on the closest chair, flopped a leg over the gurney, and peeled back a thick layer of skin to reveal circuitry tangled over a framework of realistic muscles.
Monterey reached out a curious hand.
Susan held her breath as the girl traced the wires, tapped her fingers against the muscle tissue, and stared in awe. Susan had never seen Monterey deliberately reach out to anything.
Swiftly, Nate withdrew his leg and replaced the flap of skin. Susan heard a step right outside the door. The knob turned, and the door eased open to reveal Remington Hawthorn.
Quietly, Susan motioned him inside. Monterey’s gaze went toward him, and the fear that had wholly vanished reappeared.
It’s not Nate who scares her; it’s men in general. Why? Susan’s thoughts immediately went to a history of molestation, and she hated herself for it. She had grown weary of that as the explanation for all things bad. By all reports, Monterey and her father had shared a close and happy relationship. Her problems had begun the day he died. Maybe she’s not afraid of men … but for men. Susan tried to take the thought further. She’s afraid that men … die. It did not feel quite right. Although psychiatric illness hinged on irrational thought, it usually followed a logical path. She’s afraid that … if she bonds with a man, he will die. That made more sense to Susan. It had the proper quality of childhood “magical thinking,” that the world revolved around them and they caused events to happen.
“Do you want me to leave?” Remington asked quietly.
Susan shook her head and motioned him to a distant couch. She did not want a human male to interfere with the rapport she hoped to create between Monterey and Nate. She also had not realized how long it had taken her to create the situation. If Remington had come, all of the other psychiatry residents had left for the day, except for Nevaeh, who was on call.
“Nate, can you sit here?” Susan indicated the front of the car-shaped gurney. The vehicle had only one seat, which the flick of a latch and a pull could turn into a classical gurney; but Nate could perch easily on the support structure for the pulling handle.
Nate did as she asked. It placed him with his back to Monterey, which Susan hoped simulated a car. She had not initially intended to force Monterey to actually relive the trauma, but the idea seemed suddenly sound. Classical therapies had not worked. Forcing her to relive the unpleasantness seemed unlikely to make things any worse, and it might just work. Monterey’s mother had already tried hypnosis; but, even with drug enhancement, that had proven unsuccessful. However, Susan intended to use the little information that had come out of the session to help her set up the current situation.
“You’re driving to Six Flags,” Susan informed Nate.
Nate grasped a pretend steering wheel and made appropriate motions, which impressed Susan. Surely, the robot had never actually driven a motor vehicle. Given the enormous number of choices in public transportation, most humans in cities this populated never bothered to learn. Monterey’s father had clung to his car and delighted in any opportunity to join the traffic.
“It’s a ’twenty-eight Toyota, I believe.”
Monterey’s eyes pinched, and she shook her head ever so slightly.
Susan bit back a smile. Apparently, the girl intended to play the game. She tried again. “A’ twenty-nine Toyota. Blue.”
A light flickered in Monterey’s eyes as she, apparently, fully realized what Susan intended. They widened slightly, and her pupils dilated. Her fingers tightened on the sides of the gurney.
Susan considered aborting the trial, then thought better of it. Monterey had probably suffered the shock of reliving the event many times in her head, as well as with physicians and quacks. Susan doubted she could startle the girl any worse than electroconvulsive therapy. This time, Susan had one thing no one else had: Nate. She only hoped she could interpret Monterey’s thoughts and actions correctly and would make the right decisions to improve rather than worsen Monterey’s condition.
Susan leaned forward to whisper Monterey’s father’s nickname for her into Nate’s ear, along with some vague instructions.
Nate nodded, readjusted his clothing, then retook the driving position. “So, Rey-rey, which ride do you want to go on first?”
Monterey stiffened ever so slightly at the mention of her nickname.
Nate turned his head to look at Monterey briefly.
Instantly, the girl’s breathing quickened almost to a gasp. Her mouth opened, but no words emerged.
Nate turned back to face the imaginary windshield. “How about some cotton candy, Rey-rey?”
The moment Nate returned his focus forward, Monterey relaxed visibly. She looked down, into her lap, saying nothing.
Susan glanced toward Remington, who smiled encouragingly. He had taken a seat well behind the car-shaped gurney, where Monterey could not see him without turning. She showed no sign of doing that.
“Rey-rey?” Nate twisted his head to look at Monterey again. “Cotton candy?”
Again, Susan saw the sudden change in Monterey. Her breathing quickened, her pupils opened, and a sheen of sweat appeared below her nose and across her brow. Suddenly, she raised a hand and pointed decisively toward the front of the car.
Obediently, Nate returned his gaze in the direction she had indicated.
The nonverbal communication with a male impressed Susan, and the subtext seemed obvious. Clearly, Monterey worried that the man driving the car, the father substitute, would lose focus and have an accident. Yet, Susan realized, there was more to her reaction. Her responses seemed too extreme for someone who usually kept all expression and communication hidden. There was more to it than fear. Susan knew she was seeing something else, another emotion she could not yet recognize. Think, Susan. Think.
Nate continued fake-driving, and Monterey’s face returned to neutral. The robot turned his attention to Susan, silently requesting more direction.
Susan ran through her mind, trying to remember what seemed out of place. A dipping of the body, almost hiding. Shifting gaze. She gave Nate a subtle thumbs-up to indicate he should continue as he had started.
Nate cleared his throat. “Rey-rey, if you’re not going to talk to me, how will I know where to take you?” Again, he turned. “This is our special day.”
Susan watched Monterey as closely as she dared. Again, she saw the fear reaction written plainly on her face and also the hunching into her seat, as if she wished to disappear. Her gaze shifted, and she again jabbed a finger forward.
Guilt, of course. Susan believed she had plucked the micro-expression from the overwhelming concern for safety. Monterey’s not worried for her own life; she survived the accident. She’s worried for Nate. And feeling guilty for killing her father. That fit in with Susan’s previous discussions with Nate and John Calvin. The affliction spoke for itself. There was no doubt about it anymore. She definitely said something that caused her father to take his eyes from the road.
The same possibilities presented themselves to Susan as before, the only two things a six-year-old might request in a moving car that a parent might indulge: food or
Susan sprang forward, keeping her voice calm. “Nate, Monterey dropped her stuffed monkey. Its name is Bobo. You don’t want to drive for an hour with a bored child, do you?”
Nate played along. “Definitely not. Where is Bobo?”
Susan planted her gaze on Monterey. The girl’s nostrils flared, her brows drew together, and her upper lip rose. Susan could see an artery in her neck pulsating so wildly it seemed to vibrate. Monterey had gone beyond fear to welling terror. “It’s in the passenger seat, just out of your reach. You’re going to have to unbuckle to get it.”
“Right.” Nate pantomimed releasing a seat belt and started leaning toward the passenger seat.
Abruptly, Monterey dove forward, catching Nate’s neck with both arms and squeezing with such violence that Susan took a step forward before remembering Nate did not need to breathe. A low humming sound seemed to come from nowhere. It took Susan a moment to realize it originated from Monterey’s throat.
Unable to move without first dislodging the girl, Nate rolled his gaze to Susan.
Susan tried to make sense of the noise emanating from Monterey. Gradually, she pieced it together as a deep, guttural “no” repeated so rapidly in succession it became a constant sound.
Suddenly, Monterey screamed. The sound was raw agony, a depthless, primal howl from some forgotten ancestral memory. Susan’s blood froze in her veins. Remington leapt to his feet, Nate went still, and Susan rushed toward Monterey. Before she reached the girl, another scream ripped from Monterey’s throat, then another. Worried she would bring the entire building running, Susan enwrapped the child as well as she could from beside the gurney and spoke in the calmest voice she could muster. “It’s all right. He’s a robot. He can’t die, Monterey. He … can’t … die.”
It was not wholly truth. Otherwise, there would be no need for the Third Law of Robotics: “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.” But Monterey could not know that.
Nate spoke in a muffled voice. “If I could die, it might be by strangulation.”
The screaming stopped. Slowly, Monterey’s arms slipped from Nate’s neck. She grasped Susan into a hug so fierce that she had no trouble lifting the child from the gurney and placing her on the floor. “It’s all right, Monterey. Everything will be okay.”
Monterey heaved with great sobs. Susan’s dress polo absorbed the tears, and she could feel the warm moisture seeping through to her chest. She grasped the girl more tightly, afraid to let go.
Nate stepped away from the gurney, readjusting his collar. Remington watched Susan and Monterey, not daring to break the near silence that followed those heartrending screams.
Susan gave man and robot uncertain looks. Clearly, things had changed for Monterey, but whether for better or worse remained to be seen. One thing seemed certain. To make Monterey well, they needed to address the burden of guilt she carried. In her heart and mind, she believed she and Bobo had killed her father, and Susan would have to disabuse her of that notion.
“Thank you,” Susan mouthed silently to Nate.
The robot only shrugged and smiled.
By the time Susan got Monterey Zdrazil resettled in her room, the gurney returned to Pediatrics, and finally took herself back to the charting room, it was almost nine p.m. She found Nate and Remington seated in plush chairs, chatting amicably. Both of them looked up as she entered.
“I’m so sorry,” Susan said before either of them could speak. “Nate, I put you in a difficult position.”
Nate waved off the apology. “Sometimes I think you’re the one forgetting I’m a robot. I was built to serve mankind and the physicians at Manhattan Hasbro in particular.”
Susan had not thought about those things, and the reminder might have made her smile had she not felt so guilty about how she had treated Remington. “Remy, I imagine I’m the worst date you’ve ever had.”
The neurosurgery resident rose. His green eyes sparkled in the shadow of his sandy curls, and a smile split his face to show the perfect, white line of teeth. She had always found him handsome, but never more so than at that moment. “Believe it or not, I’ve had worse. And I’d rather not go there, if you don’t mind.”
Susan laughed. “If they’re worse than this, I’m sure I don’t want to know the details.”
Remington’s smile broadened. “I enjoyed watching you work your magic. You’re an aggressive doctor, a risk taker. I like that.”
Susan nodded, unconsciously psychoanalyzing her boyfriend. Surgeons had a reputation for leaping in without fully assessing a situation, changing strategies on the fly, and making enormous changes swiftly, for good or ill. It reminded her of a classic joke about four physicians duck hunting. The psychiatrist studies the creature flying over, thinking it looks like a duck but trying to determine if it really feels like a duck. The internist notes the beak, webbed feet, and feathers are consistent with the creature probably being diagnosed as a duck. Then the surgeon catches sight of the creature and immediately shoots it down. He turns to the pathologist and says, “Go over there and find out what that was.”
Susan could understand where a surgeon might find her approach to Monterey commendable, even while her fellow psychiatrists were horrified. The effects of what she had inflicted upon the girl might not fully manifest for weeks. Now that the excitement had waned, exhaustion crushed down on Susan. She glanced at her Vox. It felt unbearably rude to postpone the date when Remington had waited so long.
But the neurosurgery resident had tuned in to Susan’s mood. “It’s getting late, and we both could use our sleep. What’s on your agenda for the weekend?”
Susan considered, then groaned. “Rounds in the morning. Should be finished by ten, but I’m supposed to inject two study patients after that. Sunday, I’m on call.”
Remington nodded, sighing. His schedule would prove every bit as busy as hers. “No problem. I don’t know who’s on Sunday for neurosurg, but whoever it is will jump at a chance to switch with me. That should get us on the same rotation schedule.” He stroked his chin and a few wisps of blond hair clinging there. “By law, they have to give us Monday off. What say we get up at the crack of noon and go skating at the mall?”
Susan brightened. She was a decent skater, and the hectic residency schedule had made exercising nearly impossible. “Perfect.”
They entered each other’s vital information into Vox, v-in-v as it had come to be called. Then Remington opened his arms, and they hugged tightly, almost viciously, and kissed until Susan felt flushed with desire.
Discreetly Nate turned away, feigning interest in one of the nearby portables; but a grin wreathed the robot’s face.
By the time Saturday morning rounds finished, Monterey had not yet awakened. Susan gave a brief description of her efforts the previous night and promised to check on her patient when she finished her work for Goldman and Peters that afternoon.
When Susan entered the sterile room, she found her supplies bundled on the counter and her patient sitting regally on the examining table. The woman wore a purple silk pants suit and a matching cape trimmed with white faux fur. A tiara, garish with rhinestones, perched upon her head. She had wrinkles etched deeply into her face and watery blue eyes that still seemed full of life. Her hair was cut short, completely
The chair beside the examination table held a weary-looking, thin man with a full head of gray hair. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and wide, striped tie, the like of which Susan had seen only in old pictures, videos, and books. He clutched a palm-pross in his hands.
Susan had read the chart and knew the story. The woman was Valerie Aldrich, the man her husband, John. She carried the diagnosis of non-Alzheimer’s dementia with fixed delusions. Three years ago, she had gotten the idea pinned into her mind that she was a princess, and nothing could dislodge it, including therapy and medications. She had surprisingly few other issues. She could still do crossword puzzles and basic mathematics, could answer historical questions, and knew loved ones and friends by name. All of her issues ballooned out from this one, rigid delusion. Her insistence on living it at all times, however, interfered intolerably with her activities of daily living.
Poor John Aldrich spent nearly every moment of his life catering to the delusion. It was his job to play the part of her butler, to indulge her desires, and to explain to everyone around them why she acted the way she did. He kept her home as much as possible, so as not to have to involve strangers and workers in the charade; but the difficulty of corralling someone who believed herself royalty had taken its toll.
Susan made a formal curtsy. “Good morning, Your Highness.”
Princess Valerie nodded her head ever so slightly to acknowledge the gesture. She wore a pretty smile. John breathed a sigh of happy relief.
Susan moved on to the husband, explaining the procedure as she had to the family of Payton Flowers. Unlike them, John Aldrich did not pause a moment before signing, though he did explain. “I love her, Dr. Calvin. We’ve been married fifty-four years, and she’s also been the sweetest woman in the world. This” — he made a subtle gesture to indicate insanity — “isn’t right; it isn’t her. I … just want my wife back.”