I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 26
Gently, Remington extracted Susan’s palm-pross from the mother’s hand and tapped in a connection to a diagram of the spinal cord. “Right here.” He pointed to the thoracic area of the back. “The dura got torn, which allowed the spinal cord to slip out of its canal. That caused him to have what we call a Brown-Sequard phenonmenon, usually caused by damage to one side of the spinal cord. Rylan had weakness on the right side of his body and lost pain and temperature sensation on the left.”
The parents only stared, listening intently. They had become accustomed to bad news when it involved their children.
Remington continued to explain. “In the OR, we were able to restore the herniated spinal cord to its correct position, and we patched the dural defect. He’s in Recovery now, and neurological tests are essentially normal. He still has slight weakness of the muscles on the right, but he did just get out of surgery.” Remington rose, smiling. “We expect a full recovery.”
The parents seemed stunned. “Full?” Lucianne Anson rose, clutching her hands together at the level of her chin. “As in … normal?”
Remington’s grin broadened. He looked tired, yet his face still managed to light up in a way that made his features seem perfect to Susan. “As in normal. Exactly how he was before the incident, aside from some scars.” He glanced over at Susan. “At least physically. I think counseling, though, is probably in order.”
The Doctors Anson caught each other and practically danced around the room with glee. “Counseling, yes,” the father boomed. “We’ll all need it.” He hugged Lucianne tighter. “Our son is going to be all right.”
Susan breathed a sigh of relief. The situation was so ugly, it seemed weird to find joy in it. Yet things could have turned out even worse.
The Ansons disengaged. Lucianne lurched over to catch Remington into an embrace. For an instant, he stiffened in surprise, then caught her in his arms.
“Thank you,” she sobbed. “Thank you so much, Doctor.”
Remington glanced at Susan, clearly uncertain how to handle his sudden predicament. “Don’t thank me, ma’am. I only made the diagnosis and assisted the surgery. My attending, Dr. Arlington, is the one who saved your son’s neurological system.”
Elliot Anson gave Remington a careful pat on the back, while his wife still clung. “We’ll thank him, too, when we can. We appreciate what all of you have done for Rylan … and for us.”
Remington waited until the mother had released him before speaking again. “The Recovery Room is through the door, to the right, and down the hallway. Do you have any questions about the surgery?”
“Can we see him now?” the father asked.
Remington pointed. “When you get to Recovery, the nurses will take you to him. They should be able to answer all your basic questions, and they can call Dr. Arlington.” He added firmly, “I’m finished for the day.”
“Thank you.” The father walked past them and out the door.
The mother grasped and squeezed Remington’s hand one more time as she passed. “Thank you.”
“Just doing my job,” Remington said to her retreating back.
The instant they disappeared, he caught Susan into an embrace. “So, about that day on the town? You get any sleep?”
“Quite a bit, actually,” Susan said, still eager to spend the rest of the day with Remington. She would understand if he canceled their date again, but she hoped he would not.
“Great!” he said with clear enthusiasm. “I caught a shower in the on-call quarters, but if I smell too much like the OR, I can take another one.”
Susan had her nose pressed against his scrubs. While he did carry the chemical odor of anesthesia and cleansers, they did not bother her. “You smell fine. Just get some street clothes on, and we’re gone. Every extra moment we stay is just one more chance for someone to ask us a question or get us caught up with another patient.”
Remington gave her a look that said everything. “I don’t care if my own grandmother needs a subarachnoid evacuation. Once I’m past those doors, I’m not coming back till tomorrow.”
Susan laughed. “I’m not waiting until we’re outside.” Using one finger, she made a show of muting her Vox. “See you at the main exit in ten minutes.”
“Or less,” Remington promised, dashing off into surgeons’ territory.
Susan went in the opposite direction, determined to let nothing stop her from reaching the front exit unmolested.
Remington took Susan’s hand as they stepped out into sunshine and damp late-morning air. Birds whistled at one another from the branches of trees planted in clumps at regular intervals along the sidewalk. She could still remember when the decision was made to add regular greenery to the city blocks in the hope of straining carbon dioxide, heat, and pollutants from the air. Many of the trees had died; but the city had diligently replanted until the living trees finally outnumbered the lampposts along the streets. Insightful city planners had chosen small, hardy varieties, planted them in groups to shade one another and capture rainfall, and placed them in elevated beds to form a barrier to runoff salts. Porous paving materials helped guide the roots but still supplied them with water, and cracked sidewalks had become a rarity.
Songbirds flitted through these poor excuses for makeshift forest, their nests perched high in the branches and protected from would-be meddlers by wrought-iron fences surrounding the trunks. Gaily painted bat houses hung from the limbs to help keep the insect population in check by night and day; the creatures’ “protected” status made it a crime to harm them or disturb their boxes.
People whisked along the sidewalks, while glide-buses, trams, and occasional cars whooshed past them on the city streets. Whenever she walked in the city, Susan believed she could sense the slight vibrations of the subground u-ways and elevated e-rails, although her father and others insisted these things were undetectable and only someone with an overactive imagination could feel them.
Remington released Susan’s hand and consulted his Vox. He punched a few keys. “If you’re still keen on skating, we can take the fifteen bus, the eight tram, or …”
In no hurry, and enjoying the feel of sun and wind, Susan interrupted. “Let’s walk.”
“Walk?” Remington’s brows inched upward. It would take them most of the morning. He shrugged. “Walk, it is. But after a day and night on call, I might not have the energy left to skate once we get there.”
Skating had seemed like a good idea at the time, but a new idea had crept insidiously into Susan’s mind, planted by several conversations and the research project. “That’s all right. I’d kind of like to sightsee, do some window-shopping, and there’s a building not too far from the mall I want to discover.”
“Oh?” Remington took her arm. “Any particular building? Or just your generic hunk of concrete with windows?”
Susan smiled. “I’d like to check out USR, U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. My dad’s worked there since as long as I can remember. Now I’m researching a product for them, and I realized I’ve never seen it. Not ever.”
Remington accepted that explanation with barely a nod as they continued their walk.
Susan looked at him. “Can you say the same? I mean, have you ever been to the place your dad works?”
“Well, my dad co-owned the supermarket down the block from our house, so I’ve been there a couple” — he paused dramatically — “hundred thousand times. But I’ll bet a lot of people whose parents work in factories and labs have no idea what those places look like.” He added quickly, as if concerned he might have offended her, “Not that I’d mind seeing the USR building. I’ll bet it’s amazing. It ought to have flashing neon signs and animatronic entryways.”
Susan laughed. “More likely it’s a drab, half-hidden, gray nothing of a building. You know what Nate said; they don’t want to draw attention to themselves in any way that anyone could construe as negative.” As that did not exactly make it a fabulous destination, she also felt the need to tack on something. “Though
“Then it’s settled. A walking tour through the city, followed by a glimpse into the world of USR and your father.” Remington spoke with genuine enthusiasm, for which Susan gave him credit. “Sounds like the perfect day.”
Susan squeezed his hand, wondering if he had any idea how much she appreciated his openness to unusual ideas and trying to find the words to tell him without sounding syrupy. A glide-bus pulled up to a nearby stop with a faint hiss of electric brakes. From the corner of her eye, she saw a man racing awkwardly to catch it as the waiting passengers funneled inside.
As the man flashed past, Susan took a closer look. In his midthirties, he had wildly unkempt blond hair that trailed him in tangles and several days’ growth of beard. Oddly familiar, he wore dirty blue jeans with multiple patches and a long trench coat that seemed inappropriate for the summer weather. Perhaps he had started out early, with the morning chill still in the air. Then, as he brushed past her and onto the bus, Susan felt herself repulsed, wanting to move as far away from him as possible. That clinched his identity in her mind: Payton Flowers, the schizophrenic she had injected with nanorobots, the man for whom Goldman and Peters had practically put out a bounty when he had not shown up for his last appointment.
Without time for explanation, Susan grabbed Remington’s arm and half dragged him toward the bus door. Payton was disappearing inside; and, as there was no one behind him, Susan worried the doors would close before she could catch him. “Come on!”
Though surely surprised, Remington ran with Susan. They reached the door in two bounding steps, and Susan managed to stomp a foot onto the platform, activating the mechanical sensor, just as the doors started closing. The doors froze in place, then eased fully open. Susan staggered in, pulling Remington behind her. He waved raggedly at the driver. Someday, Susan supposed, the glide-buses would become fully automated, obviating the need for direct human guidance. In that moment, she understood why people might feel threatened by positronic robots like Nate.
Payton Flowers took a seat near the front. The one opposite him was already occupied, so Susan kept walking down the aisle until she finally found a fully open seat, three rows farther on. She deliberately avoided the back of the bus. Since all public transport had become essentially free, covered by taxes, certain types of people had a habit of climbing aboard and spending the day staring out the windows. So long as they remained relatively quiet, and self-confined to the back of the bus, most of the drivers tolerated them and left them to their own devices. Susan wondered if Payton might have spent the last few days or weeks among them, which could explain why he had disappeared so completely.
Susan gestured for Remington to take the window seat. She wanted to keep herself free to slip up to Payton Flowers and try to talk to him en route. If impossible, at least she would be able to keep her eye on him so they could debark at the same stop.
Remington swung into the seat, and Susan sat down beside him. The bus glided smoothly back into traffic. The moment it moved, their seat belts clicked into place around them, automatically adjusting to fit snugly over their waists and chests. “You women really are fickle, aren’t you? What happened to our leisurely, sightseeing stroll in the fresh air?”
Susan took her eyes from her patient to fix them on Remington. She could not help grinning at the comment. “I’m so sorry. I’m not usually … insane.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Remington said with not-wholly-mock seriousness. “What happened?”
“One of our study patients went AWOL. Goldman and Peters have been going mad trying to find him. I saw him getting on the bus, and I didn’t want to lose him.” Susan tapped the laboratory number into her Vox and sent off a quick text: “Found P.F. 15 bus. Advise.”
Remington stretched to peek around Susan. “Is it the shabby one in the coat?”
Susan nodded. “His name’s Payton.” For discretionary reasons, she did not divulge his last name.
Remington continued to peer past her. “How crazy is he?”
Susan winced. Psychiatrists were generally not enamored of the “c” word. “You know I can’t say. Confidentiality.”
“Yeah.” Remington surely understood, but he did not seem happy with the reply. “But I like to know a little bit about a guy when I’m stuck on a bus with him and he’s wearing a trench coat in July.”
Susan dismissed Remington’s concerns. “Just because he’s a psych patient doesn’t make him dangerous.”
Remington sat back, though clearly still uneasy. “Susan, one of your patients, age four, tried to murder one of my patients. She did murder his sister. You want to come up with something more comforting than ‘just because he’s a psych patient doesn’t make him dangerous’?”
Susan had little to offer. While not the most dangerous of psychiatric diagnoses — antisocial personalities such as Sharicka had that sewn up — schizophrenia did make its victims unpredictable and, sometimes, dangerous. She could not forget Payton’s answers to her questions about how and why he had come to the procedure room: “I walked. Ninety-three billion miles. From da sun.” Susan shrugged. “As long as we’re just following him and don’t confront him, we shouldn’t incite any problems.”
Remington grunted. “No way a paranoid schizophrenic would lash out at people following him, right?”
Susan tried not to reveal that Remington had inadvertently discovered the correct diagnosis. “Well …”
“And you wouldn’t actually try to talk to him, that is, confront him, would you?”
As that had been Susan’s plan, she could hardly deny it. A buzz from her Vox rescued her from a reply. It was the lab: “StA wth. Wll gt prmssn frm fmly fr cops.” “Doesn’t look like I’ll have to. Goldman and Peters are contacting the family. They should be able to get permission for intervention by law enforcement.”
Remington glanced around Susan again. “Good.” He craned farther. “Where’s he going?”
Susan turned her attention to Payton Flowers. The man had risen from his seat, heading toward the front of the bus.
The resident physicians watched him approach the bus driver, talk for a moment, then flip the edge of his coat. Even from a dozen seats back, Susan could see the driver of the bus grow visibly pale. He punched the intercom button. “Passengers, please remain calm.”
No words in the English language could have had a more opposite effect. Though no one left his seat, all of the passengers visibly stiffened, including a woman who had appeared so deeply asleep she sprawled partway into the aisle, held in place by her seat belt.
“If we all stay in our seats and don’t panic, we’ll be fine.”
Susan’s heart rate tripled. She found herself leaning on Remington, who put a steadying arm around her.
The driver continued, his voice tremulous and edged with fear. Clearly, he was trying to control it, but it would not wholly obey him. “This man has a bomb and has threatened to set it off if anyone leaves their seat.”
A bomb? Susan’s first thought was to deny it. Things like that did not happen on glide-buses in downtown Manhattan. Then, her thoughts scattered in several directions. This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. Why would Payton Flowers want to blow us up? Why would anyone hijack a glide-bus; it wouldn’t have the power to make it out of the state, let alone the country. Then, one thought shattered all the others. We’re going to die!
All around her, Susan could hear the faint click of Vox messages being sent. Likely, some of them had locked into Emergency mode. Others were probably sending love notes to friends, children, parents, and spouses. Surely, the police would pinpoint them before Payton could do anything stupid.
Pinpoint us and what? Make sure we explode somewhere less populated? Susan looked at Remington. His Vox glowed red. He, at least, had put his Vox into Emergency mode. The police computers could lock onto it and, probably, several others on the crowded bus. I know this guy. I should be able to do something no one else can.
A psychiatrist, Susan realized, would inject him with an emergency dose of antipsychotics. That information did little to help. She did not carry around spare doses of hospital medications, let alone a needle. If I did, she decided, it would contain a potent and fast-acting anesthesia. She punched another message to Goldman and Peters: “E! P. F. w/bomb. Hijack! Advise.” She had no idea what they could tell her that would make any difference, but it seemed worth trying. They might know how to contact Payton’s regular psychiatrist.
Remington whispered, “If you distract him, I’ll grab him.”
“No!” Susan returned in a forceful whisper. “It’s not like he has a gun or something you could take from him. He’d just detonate the bomb and kill us all.”
Remington’s jaw set. “We have to do something.”
Susan could hardly argue. The only other option was to sit back and leave their fate to a psychotic, assuming no one else tried anything stupid and got them all killed first. “Patients with hallucinations and delusions may not see things as they are.”
Remington’s gaze seemed to bore through her, as if trying to read the point behind her words. “Are you saying he might not act or react in a rational fashion? Because that seems rather obvious under the circumstances.”
Susan could see how he might interpret her words that way. “I mean he may believe he has a bomb, but it might be something … harmless.”
“In which case, I can jump him.”
“In which case,” Susan corrected, “you don’t need to jump him.”
The buzz of the lab’s reply joined a cacophony of Vox noises: “StA clm, quiet. Sndng hlp.”