I robot to protect book.., p.25

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 25


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  Kendall held Susan, saying nothing, lightly stroking her hair with the patience of a father. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t know. No one could have known.”

  Kendall had to say it; but, to Susan’s conscience, it was all lies. They had had more than enough warnings. It was not even the first time Sharicka had assaulted Misty. She had tried to kill her sister before. She had done so many terrible things and had proven herself manipulative and deadly dangerous. Somehow, Susan had allowed herself to believe a four-year-old would not have the wherewithal to kill, not under the watchful eye of educated, professional, and wary parents.

  But even educated, professional, wary parents have to sleep. And the beast within Sharicka, apparently, never did, a charming four-year-old genius with a penchant for murder. Susan sobbed out, “I shouldn’t have suggested it. I shouldn’t have approved it. I shouldn’t have allowed it.”

  Kendall cradled Susan’s head. “Hindsight is telescopic.”

  “But I knew what she was. What she could do. I knew she was manipulating the nursing staff. Why did I let her manipulate me, too?”

  “Because you’re human?” Kendall’s grip never wavered. “And she’s four years old. She’s a cute little bundle of baby fat ….”

  “And homicidal fury, Kendall. What does a four-year-old have to be that angry about?”

  “Angry?” Kendall’s voice revealed confusion. “I’ve never seen Sharicka angry, and I don’t think she’s lashing out in some kind of seething fury. She’s colder. Calculating. It’s as if she’s …”

  “Possessed?” Susan tried.

  “Do you believe in that?”

  “No.” Susan found her faith in science wavering for the first time ever. “Do you?”

  “No,” Kendall said without hesitation. “Just because we can’t explain everything yet doesn’t mean everything doesn’t have a logical explanation. I mean, so far, everything in history that people once attributed to supernatural phenomenon has been thoroughly and utterly disproven or explained.”

  Susan did not argue. She was absolutely grounded in science. “Four years old, Kendall.”

  “Almost five,” he reminded her. “And not the youngest killer in the world.”

  That caught Susan off her guard. She finally pulled away far enough to look into his face. “Who’s the youngest?”

  “Who knows? In every state in the union, probably in every country in the world, kids under the age of seven are automatically presumed not responsible for their criminal acts, including murder. We just throw a few meds at them, send them home, and wait until they kill someone else, when they’re old enough to prosecute.”

  Susan wondered why Kendall knew that. And she did not. Likely, he had done some research since learning about Sharicka’s night. “What’s the youngest you’ve heard of?”

  Kendall obliged. “Well, we have the Kelby Cross gun containment law because a two-year-old shot his sister.”

  Susan knew that well-publicized case. “That was accidental. I’m talking about a deliberate act.”

  Kendall reached across her to consult his palm-pross. He tapped a few buttons, then studied the screen. “In 2001, an Illinois three-year-old bashed in the skull of a two-year-old and injured a three-week-old left in his care.”

  “Who would leave babies in the care of another baby?”

  Kendall shrugged. “That’s not the point, is it?”

  Susan supposed not. She had asked about children with a penchant for murder, not about irresponsible parents.

  Kendall continued to consult the palm-pross. “In 2021, a three-year-old in Detroit fatally shot his drunk father while the father was beating the boy’s mother. A four-year-old girl in India snatched and killed three infants in separate incidents just last year. In 1986, a five-year-old shoved a three-year-old off a Miami Beach balcony and, when the younger boy grabbed onto a ledge, the older boy pried his fingers loose and dropped him five stories to his death. There have been at least three recent cases where kids, usually in groups of two or three, between the ages of three and six, brutally murdered infants or toddlers.”

  It seemed insane to take solace in ghastly crimes, but it did help Susan to bring reality back to the fore. Sharicka was not possessed by some demonic entity; she was betrayed by some terrible defect in her brain. With any luck, the nanorobots could find it because, clearly, current treatments held out no hope for her at all.

  By the time Susan fully regained her composure and Kendall returned to his work, the other residents had arrived. Soon afterward, Dr. Bainbridge came for rounds. They all looked so alert, clean, and well rested to Susan, who felt like she had aged a decade in the last few hours. She joined them reluctantly. The nurses may have talked to some of the residents, but they would leave Susan to break the news to the attending doctor.

  Dr. Bainbridge swept in with all the authority in the universe. “Good morning, Doctors.” He looked around the assembled group, surely noticing the somber faces. “Judging by looks alone, I’d say Dr. Calvin took call yesterday.”

  Stony Lipschitz stepped in to rescue Susan. “She’s had rather a bad morning, sir.”

  The grin wilted from Bainbridge’s face. “Why wasn’t I called?”

  The R-3 continued to take the heat. “I just found out about it myself an hour ago. It didn’t seem worth bothering you for that little bit of time.”

  Susan had delayed calling her superiors until she had a reasonable grasp of the situation. She had also been taught not to bother sleeping people unless there was something they could do. Seeing no reason to prolong the agony, she explained, “Sharicka Anson went on a home visit yesterday. In the wee morning hours, she attacked her siblings, killing one and badly wounding the other. The police escorted her back here.”

  Bainbridge listened intently without interrupting as Susan described the situation. When she finished, he stroked his chin thoughtfully. “So, I guess we can all see now why Susan came down so hard on a four-year-old when others mentioned discharge.” He looked around at the nurses intently. “Now does everyone understand the manipulativeness that characterizes the antisocial mind?”

  Susan would not let her detractors take all the heat, though she did wish Shaden’s shift had not ended hours earlier. “I’m afraid she manipulated me, too, Dr. Bainbridge. I’m the one who okayed the home visit and suggested it to her parents.”

  Dr. Bainbridge nodded thoughtfully. “Master manipulators, antisocials. As I have said before, the psychiatric worker does not exist who has not fallen prey to one at some point.” He shook his head, now staring directly at Susan. In an uncharacteristic action, he walked to her and put a fatherly arm across her shoulders. “It’s not your fault, Susan. She’s four years old, and the rules say we have to give children second and third and fourth and fifth chances. Had you asked my opinion, I would have done nothing different. We knew she was dangerous, and her parents knew it, too; yet we all believed that even if she did something bad, an adult could stop her.

  “It’s not your fault,” Dr. Bainbridge repeated, “but for a long time it’s going to feel as if it is. If you find it taking over your life, let me know immediately and we’ll arrange some counseling. Sometimes big mistakes have small consequences. And sometimes small mistakes have big ones. You can’t let chance rule your life.”

  Susan glanced around at her peers. All of them wore solemn and sympathetic looks. They might harbor other grudges against her; but, at this time, they stood unanimous in support of her. “I’ll be all right,” she said. “But I’d like permission to leave rounds early to talk to the Ansons. I’m not sure Neurosurgery has much of a clue about juvenile conduct disorder, and I’m already getting the sense they blame the father. This family doesn’t need any more trauma.”

  Bainbridge nodded agreement. “Go,” he said. “We’ll call you if we need anything more from you.”

  “Thank you,” Susan said with all the gratitude in the world. She raced toward the operating room waiting area, where she knew she
would find the Ansons. She only hoped they would still be willing to see her.

  Chapter 18

  The surgical waiting room had brilliant aqua walls, a multicolored rug, comfortable chairs, and surrealistic paintings teeming with colored swirls and odd-ball shapes. The Ansons were alone, the mother sobbing in her seat and the father pacing wildly, his left hand and right wrist covered in fresh bandages.

  The father stopped moving the instant he spotted Susan. “Dr. Calvin.” His voice emerged in a neutral tone. It was less a greeting than an acknowledgment.

  Lucianne Anson’s head jerked up. She stood and faced Susan.

  Susan did not wait for her to speak or make her feelings or intentions clear. Tossing her palm-pross gently on a chair, she caught Sharicka’s mother into an embrace. The woman stiffened, then collapsed against her. Warm tears dribbled across Susan’s neck.

  “I’m sorry,” Susan whispered. “I’m so very sorry.” She could think of nothing else to say.

  Elliot appeared beside them. “Do you know anything about Rylan’s condition?”

  Susan could only shake her head. “Not yet.” She did not say anything about Sharicka. She did not know if telling them the child was safe would soothe or infuriate them.

  Before she could say anything more, the father spoke in anguished tones. “It’s all my fault. She behaved so well all evening, I guess I let my guard down. After she fell asleep, I figured we were good till early morning.”

  The mother pulled away from Susan long enough to say, “It’s not your fault, Elliot.” She added forcefully, at least partially for Susan’s benefit, “It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s … her brain. It’s just not right.” She dissolved into tears again.

  Elliot Anson eased his wife off Susan. “I just thought … I guess I figured …” He did not need to finish the sentence.

  Susan shook her head. “Stop blaming yourself, Dr. Anson.” She wished she could take her own advice. Despite the mother’s effort to absolve her, Susan only felt guiltier. She had suggested the visit. She had encouraged them, even when Lucianne Anson had voiced serious doubts. She was the one with the medical knowledge, the one who should have known better.

  Susan forced herself to continue. “No one could believe a child Sharicka’s age was capable of doing so much harm so quickly. I have to believe people like Sharicka inspired the stories of demonic possession, that they explain the occasional infanticide in ancient cultures. Medical confidentiality is strict, especially when it comes to both mental illnesses and children. Juvenile conduct disorder is rare, and the extreme nature of Sharicka’s case is exceptionally so. I believe other patients this young, this severe, exist; but there is little to no available information about them.” Susan hoped she had made both of her cases: that the cause of Sharicka’s problem was a brain abnormality no one could have seen or prevented and that the degree of her violence went beyond what anyone could have predicted.

  Lucianne Anson pulled free from her husband. “Would you think less of us if we … never took her home again?”

  Susan could barely believe any other option existed, even in the minds of loving parents. “Of course not. Are you wanting to terminate your parental rights?”

  The parents exchanged glances. They had clearly discussed this topic thoroughly as they waited for news of Rylan’s condition. Elliot detailed their conclusions. “Sharicka belongs in permanent residential care, where trained professionals can watch her twenty-four/seven; but you’ve told us that can’t happen because of her age. We’re worried if we terminate our rights, she’ll wind up in someone else’s home.”

  Lucianne blurted out, “And kill someone else’s children, too.”

  Susan wanted to tell them such a thing would not happen, could not happen; but she had a grim and terrible feeling they were right. Kendall’s words came back to haunt her: “In every state in the union, probably in every country in the world, kids under the age of seven are automatically presumed not responsible for their criminal acts, including murder. We just throw a few meds at them, send them home, and wait until they kill someone else, when they’re old enough to prosecute.”

  Elliot cringed. “Believe it or not, we will always love Sharicka. She’s our daughter. But, if Rylan … if Rylan …” Now, tears dripped down his face. He could scarcely squeeze out the words.

  Susan wished she could help him, but she did not know what he intended to say.

  “If Rylan survives, it would be torture for him to have her in our home. We love our son as well, and he is innocent.”

  Susan could see their point. If the Ansons terminated their parental rights, Sharicka would become a ward of the state. She would spend a significant amount of time in the PIPU. All too soon, however, the horror of the moment would fade and people would start to rationalize the murder. They would say the Ansons orchestrated it or abused Sharicka so badly she had to lash out. Someone else would suggest that Misty and Rylan had ganged up to mercilessly torment their little sister until she could stand it no longer. Others would sincerely believe that a preschooler had no capacity for evil, that a girl so young simply had no ability to understand the consequences of her actions. Eventually, Sharicka would learn to manipulate the system, to “remember” nonexistent abuses, to say whatever gained her the compassion she had no capacity to experience herself.

  Well-intentioned social workers would foist Sharicka into multiple foster placements, where she would leave havoc and a wake of bodies behind her. The Ansons had an impossible decision. Regardless of their innocence, a cloud of suspicion would always follow them, regardless of whether they chose to terminate their parental rights. Protecting their only remaining son might mean damning so many other children and destroying other families.

  Susan reached for her palm-pross. “I have one new option to offer you, still in the research stage.”

  The Doctors Anson fixed their gazes on her, clearly interested.

  Susan explained the nanorobot study, first superficially, then in more depth. Whether they chose to try it or not, at least the conversation allowed them to take a break from worrying about Rylan. When Susan finished her explanation, the parents did not even bother to discuss it.

  “We’ll do it,” the mother said.

  The father nodded.

  The absolute desperation of both of their replies did not escape Susan. They would have agreed to almost anything. They had nothing to lose, and neither did Sharicka.

  Susan gave Elliot Anson the palm-pross to sign, and he did so awkwardly because of the bandages but without any hesitation. Lucianne affixed her name below his. As the mother wrote, Susan noticed movement from the corner of her eye. When she turned to face the entrance, she found Remington Hawthorn coming toward them.

  Leaving the palm-pross with the Ansons, Susan darted over to meet him, took his arm firmly, and escorted him away from the waiting room.

  Remington looked at her dazedly as he found himself walking opposite the direction he had intended. “Susan. What are you doing here?”

  “Talking to a patient’s family. I presume you’re doing the same.”

  Remington caught on immediately. “The alleged four-year-old murderer is a patient of yours.”

  Susan nodded forcefully. “And there’s no ‘alleged’ to it. She’s fascinated by what she did, and it’s not her first attempt.”

  Remington’s brows shot up. “A four-year-old serial killer?”

  The thought chilled Susan to her marrow. “Attempted serial killer. So far, she’s only completed one murder, though it’s not for lack of trying.” Susan realized the imaginative array of Sharicka’s attempts did not bode well for the future: drowning, stabbing, strangulation, and the choking hazard added to a child’s drink. When Sharicka discovered guns, there would be no telling what might happen.

  “I’m glad you told me,” Remington said, sounding more perplexed than pleased. “It changes my feelings about the family, which will probably affect my approach when I tell them Rylan will likely m
ake a full recovery.”

  “Oh, thank God.” Susan spoke before she had a chance to consider her words. “I don’t think they could handle any more bad news.”

  Remington studied Susan as if seeing her for the first time. “You’re positive the four-year-old really did this … and of her own volition. That she’s not under the influence of …”

  Susan understood his hesitation and doubt. It had become predictable. “Her father is not manipulating her into taking the blame, nor into taking these actions. She’s a very sick little girl.”

  Remington sighed. “I have to admit I would have expected deeper cuts had an adult inflicted them, even with something as blunt as a butter knife.” He glanced past Susan, and she appreciated that he accepted her authority without further questioning. If she said a four-year-old caused the trauma, he would no longer cast suspicion on the father. “I’d love to give you a full report, but why repeat myself? Let’s let the worried parents off the hook.”

  Susan nodded, then gestured to indicate Remington should go first. He did so, and she followed him back into the waiting room.

  Dr. Elliot Anson had returned to his pacing; but, the instant Remington entered the doorway, he grabbed a seat beside his wife. “How’s Rylan?” Both parents turned agonized gazes onto the neurosurgery resident. Seeing their raw and honest expressions, Susan wondered how anyone could suspect them of harming any of their children.

  Remington crouched in front of the parents. “Most of his wounds were superficial, but one managed to penetrate the spine. It tore a hole in the dura, the membrane covering the spinal cord, and caused what we call a traumatic herniation.”

  Susan held her breath. She did not know enough about neurosurgery to guess the long-term effects. Herniations of the brain nearly always proved fatal. She did not know if there was any connection between spinal cord and brain herniation. Then she remembered Remington had told her Rylan would probably make a full recovery, and her concern slowly dissipated. Do neurosurgeons mean “full recovery” the same way nonsurgeons do?

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