I robot to protect book.., p.27

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 27


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  Remington peered over the heads of the people in front of him. “That’s real fear in the driver’s voice and face. If it’s not a bomb, it’s a good facsimile.”

  “Yeah.” Before Susan could say anything further, the driver came on again.

  “Everyone, I must remind you to remain in your seats for the safety of us all.”

  Susan had not seen anyone attempt to stand, but it did not hurt to remind people.

  “Also, the gentleman has asked that you shut down all electronics, remain silent, and …”

  Payton said something Susan could not make out.

  “And stop talking about him.” The driver fairly screeched the words, as if realizing how ludicrous they sounded but certain choosing others might get him killed. Remington had an excellent point. The person sitting closest to Payton Flowers, the one who should know, was clearly convinced the device beneath his trench coat was actively explosive. He added pleadingly, “Please do as he says.”

  Susan pursed her lips. To most of the other passengers, his plea probably sounded bizarre. Anyone who knew schizophrenics, however, could understand the concern. In a situation such as this one, it only made sense people would talk about the person holding them hostage, but Payton’s concern more likely stemmed from the intense and overpowering delusion that people always talked about him, perhaps even that computers and television broadcasted his thoughts and actions to the world. Dutifully, she silenced her Vox. Others must have done the same, because the buzzing and clicking disappeared into an eerie, fear-filled hush.

  The bus sped along its usual route, different only in that it made no stops. Susan watched out the window as the people at the proper bus stops pressed forward. When the vehicle showed no signs of slowing, most leapt backward for fear of getting hit. Some shouted, waved fists or middle fingers, or stared bewilderedly after the speeding bus.

  Reality squeezed in on Susan in the moment “bomb” moved from a word to a concept. Her heart pounded in her chest. A lump formed in her throat, and all oxygen seemed to have left the air. Remington caught her hand and squeezed it. Susan clamped her fingers around his palm as if her life depended on it. Now she wished they had sat farther back in the bus. Maybe they could duck behind the seat back in front of them and it would shield them from some of the blast.

  Remington whispered so softly even Susan could barely hear him, “Talk to him.”

  It was the first suggestion that made sense to Susan. She was a psychiatrist. In theory, she should know how to speak to irrational people, to calm their hysteria. Her own education undid her, however. If Payton suffered from almost any neurosis, she might have found the right words, the right phrases. She could reason with a histrionic, with a narcissist, even with an antisocial. Though the latter might play manipulative games, he would not detonate the bomb, at least not until he had induced the optimal amount of panic, terror, and uncertainty to feed his thrill. With a schizophrenic, however, no rational approach existed. One had to feed into the correct hallucination, the right delusion; and she had no way to know which one, if any, might delay and which might send him over the edge.

  In other circumstances, Susan might have shouted out his name. Her knowledge would surprise a man without psychosis, might inflame enough curiosity to make him pause and listen. But a man like Payton, suffering from a thought-broadcasting, persecutory delusion, would simply see Susan as a mind-reading threat. Just discovering someone on the bus had knowledge about him might drive him to destroy her and everyone around her. Susan had never felt so helpless in her life.

  I have to try something, don’t I? The answer seemed obvious; and, yet, so far, simple obedience had served its purpose. So long as no one did anything threatening, Payton seemed content to leave things as they were. It felt foolish to rock the boat until something changed, until the danger intensified and it no longer mattered whether her actions might actually enrage rather than soothe him. “Logic won’t work,” Susan hissed back directly into Remington’s ear. Even the obvious realization that Payton Flowers would die along with his hostages would not help in this situation. He might not care. He could have already decided to kill himself and just wanted to do it in a grand fashion. Or, perhaps, he believed himself invincible.

  Forcing herself to try to think like a wholly irrational human being made Susan’s head ache. She rubbed her temples and tried not to focus on how it all came down to Payton Flowers and whatever hallucinations and delusions assailed him at the moment. To him, the passengers might all be demons on their way to hell, aliens plotting to devour humanity, a clicking lot of locusts hell-bent on destroying the world’s food supply. Dislodging schizophrenic delusions never happened with words or rational proof. One could remove a schizophrenic’s normal kidney, put it in his hand, and still not convince him it was not infested by rats. A thousand mirrors could not disabuse him of the notion that he had green hair or purple eyes.

  But the idea of sitting back and passively dying did not work for Susan any more than for Remington. Once she discarded the possibility of overwhelming or bargaining with a florid psychotic, her mind turned to escape. The driver controlled the windows and doors, and Susan had already seen several people attempting to loosen or break windows without success.

  The bus lurched to a stop. Through the window beyond Remington, Susan could see the familiar, broad outline of the Turtle Bay Mall, their original destination. They had pulled into a bus stop, so no one outside of the vehicle seemed perturbed. From the corner of her eye, she thought she could see the red, white, and blue strobing lights of at least one police car. She was glad they had had the good sense not to alarm the bomber with sirens.

  Everyone had fallen utterly silent, so the driver’s voice over the speaker sounded particularly loud. Several people stiffened, including Susan, who felt a wash of cold fear slide down her spine. “The gentleman has asked that I open all the doors. If you debark in an orderly fashion, and no one tries anything foolish, he has promised not to detonate the bomb until we’re all safely off the bus.” As if to prove his words, the seat belt buckles clicked off and the belts glided away.

  Seized by a sudden urge to be the first one out, Susan forced herself to stand slowly and remain in place. She could imagine the passengers trampling one another in a sudden panicked rush. For the first time since Payton Flowers had taken control, she dared to hope they might actually survive.

  The doors eased open. Passengers flowed into the aisle so quickly Susan barely had time to blink. She tried to muscle her way into the crowd heading toward the front, but Remington held her back. “This way.” He ducked beneath their seat.

  Though confused by his action, Susan followed. They squirmed back two rows, then practically fell into the empty stairwell of the middle set of doors and out into the street. The street, the blessed street. Susan wanted to kiss it, but Remington grabbed her arm and hauled her toward the curb, onto the sidewalk, then made a mad dash toward the looming skyscrapers.

  Susan could not help going with him. He pulled her along at a sprinter’s pace, dodging the dazed people waiting at the bus stop, hurling her around trees and nearly sending her careening into a bench. She wanted to tell him to slow down, but she couldn’t catch her breath. Then, suddenly, she was tossed to the sidewalk and he flung himself on top of her.

  Noise thundered through Susan’s ears, so loud it caused physical pain and fully deafened her. The ground seemed to buck and shake, as if the entire world had come apart. Heat washed over her, and her lungs refused to function. She struggled for breath, found it, and sucked in several acrid lungfuls. Her hearing returned abruptly in the form of strangers screaming. Remington rolled off her. “Are you all right?”

  Susan wiped liquid from her cheek and discovered blood on her hand. She probed her face, without finding a source, while she took in the scene around her. Everything had changed. People ran, shrieking, in all directions. Only hunks of twisted metal remained from the shelter that had once housed the bus station. Where the gli
de-bus had parked, she saw only a scorched outline. Two police cars were clearly visible behind it, their windshields shattered and their front ends bashed in. People staggered up from the sidewalk, some moaning, others tottering, a few walking in crazed circles.

  “Payton,” Susan said, the single name carrying all the necessary information.

  Remington helped her stand. His jeans showed myriad holes with burnt edges, and a shard of thin metal jutted from his profusely bleeding shoulder. “I think,” he said carefully, “we can conclude the bomb” — he looked Susan over — “was real.”

  Susan stood there a moment contemplating the scene. Then, through no intention of her own, she started laughing. It seemed strange and out of place, yet the perfect reaction to Remington’s under-statement. It was an expression of joy amid depthless sorrow and fear. We’re alive! She took Remington’s injured arm. “You’re bleeding.”

  “You, too.” Remington dabbed at her face.

  Susan brushed away his ministrations. “I think it’s your blood on me, too.” She reached for his arm. “Let me take care of that.”

  “There are people hurt a lot worse than I am.” Remington started to turn away, but Susan grabbed him.

  “You’re worthless to anyone if you bleed to death.” She indicated he should sit, which he did on the sidewalk. “If you severed your brachial artery, and I won’t know till I remove this thing, you’re first on the triage list.”

  Susan went to work, trying to imagine herself on call in the ER rather than on a city street, seeking normalcy in a situation that contained none. Soon enough, she could start assessing the injured and possibly the dying around her, but not until she assured herself she would not have to do so alone.

  Chapter 19

  Under strict orders not to show her face on the PIPU for two full weeks, Susan Calvin sat in her bed, her palm-pross balanced on her lap. Sunlight from the bedroom window cast a glare across the screen that she ignored as she poured through Payton Flowers’ history. As far as she could tell, he had never done a violent thing in the whole of his brief life, at least prior to blowing up a bus in downtown Manhattan.

  Susan sat back, frustrated. She felt fine, but hobbled by the ordered recovery, though she understood the purpose of it. She knew Remington was at least as eager to return to work as she was.

  It took a special kind of workaholic to worry for every moment away, the kind who had had it drummed into his head for years that doing so meant “missing all the best cases.” Dr. Bainbridge and his ilk, she realized, had affected her, and Remington, more than she had initially understood.

  Susan sat back, frustrated. Payton’s actions made no logical sense, but that should not have bothered her per se. It was the very hallmark of schizophrenia to act irrationally. Irrationally, not totally rabbit-ass, over-the-moon crazy. Susan relived racing from the bus, still half convinced the bomb strapped to Payton Flowers might consist of cardboard and bare-ended wires. She felt Remington hurl her to the ground and throw his body over hers, the explosion that deafened her and quaked the ground, the raw terror that followed. She shook away those memories. She had spent the previous day focused on them, dissecting them in detail. It was already time to move on.

  So now Susan found herself hopelessly intent on solving the mystery of Payton Flowers. He was not the first schizophrenic to commit murder. Once every few years the psychosis took over someone and he lashed out at a friend or acquaintance, or even a stranger mistaken for the devil or a monster or the one responsible for broadcasting his thoughts to the world. Susan had never personally heard of a schizophrenic mass murderer. Though some surely existed, that was more the realm of terrorists, religious zealots, power-hungry dictators, and antisocials.

  Susan had turned to research, where she had managed to find some instances. However, all of them had shown signs of violent intent long before they committed their heinous acts. Most had killed or tortured animals, either hunting, from spite, or both. All had spoken of hallucinations of murder or compulsions to kill. Payton did not fit the pattern. Just carrying the diagnosis of schizophrenia was not enough. Millions of people had it, but killing was rare. Though, Susan had to admit, a far higher percentage of murderers had schizophrenia than the general population, nonviolent psychotics did not become mass murderers overnight.

  Something happened to Payton, and we need to know what. The same frustration that had assailed Susan for most of the morning returned to strike her now. The explosion had left little of Payton’s remains and nothing of substance to examine. Could the nanorobots have had anything to do with this? Anything whatsoever? She had considered the idea several times before and always dismissed it. She understood how the nanorobots worked, at least in theory. If something went monumentally wrong, it could cause failure of the nanorobots to obtain data, headache, stroke, damage to brain tissue, or infection. Hijacking a bus required deliberate and cold calculation.

  Susan’s Vox buzzed. She stiffened suddenly, nearly wrenching several muscles. Jumpier than I realized. Susan glanced at the display as she activated the voice function. “This is Susan Calvin.” The call came from Ari Goldman’s private Vox.

  “Susan, what happened?”

  Peters’ more mellow baritone cut in. “How are you, Susan? Are you all right?”

  Susan smiled. “I’m fine, really. Just tired and a bit shaken. My date shielded me, and I’m not physically hurt at all.”

  “The neurosurgery resident at the scene?”

  “That’s the one.”

  “I thought those guys were all inconsiderate jerks.”

  Susan laughed. “This one missed his narcissism classes, I guess. He’s a keeper.”

  “What happened?” Goldman said again, louder. “Did our patient really take a busload of people hostage, then blow it up?”

  Susan nodded, though the men could not see her. She refused to activate visuals from bed. “He did. Luckily, he let us off first.”


  Surprised by the question, Susan hesitated.

  Peters spoke first. “I think he means why did he bring a bomb onto a bus, not why didn’t he murder you all. At least, I hope that’s what he means.”

  “Sure,” Goldman said.

  Susan did not have an answer for either question, but the second one had not intrigued her until that moment. Either way, she did not know exactly how to answer. “I imagine he was suffering some sort of schizophrenic break.”

  “Damn!” Ari Goldman said loudly.

  Susan did not know what to make of that, either. She knew Dr. Goldman tended to get caught up in the research and not consider the human element, but he had a good heart.

  Before anyone else could speak, he explained himself. “Can you imagine what we could have learned if we had those nanorobots from his brain? It could revolutionize psychiatry!”

  Susan had to admit he had a valuable point. Readings on neuronal firing and neurotransmitters during an event this illogical and emotional could have brought the entire field of psychiatry an enormous leap into the future. “They’re gone.” Susan did not want to mislead him. There was no chance any of the nanorobots from Payton Flowers’ head would ever be recovered. “But the good news is no one else was killed by the bomb blast. He gave us enough time to flee before setting off the explosion.” Barely.

  Susan’s own words gave her more to think about.

  Peters said softly, “Susan, who identified Payton Flowers as the bomber? It’s way too soon for DNA or dental records.”

  “I did. I recognized him when he got on the bus. Remember, I followed him. I texted you, and you said to stay with him.”

  “Yes, yes, yes.” Ari verbally waved off the explanation. “I remember the conversation; I haven’t gone senile yet. But you didn’t … happen to mention to the police … how you knew him?”

  Susan thought back. A lot had happened in a small space of time. She had assisted several people until the paramedics arrived, patching open wounds, covering burns, keeping them c
alm. “I just said I knew him from the hospital, as a patient. I didn’t mention the study.”

  Susan thought she heard two relieved sighs, and it bothered her. She could understand and forgive Dr. Goldman, but she trusted Peters to put the human side of everything first. “Good girl. We don’t need that getting out.”

  Though it seemed callous to worry for the integrity of the study more than the lost life, Susan did now appreciate the information given on the first day of residency by Brentwood Locke: “And, last but not least, stone tablet commandment number three is if you wind up involved with any medical studies, you do so with the explicit understanding the lead researchers’ word is law and no information leaves the hospital grounds. After years of arduous research and expensive grants, no scientist wants his results leaked, or his ideas stolen, before publication. If you violate number three, you will likely disappear off the face of the planet. And rightly so.” Guess I won’t be disappearing any time soon. The words rang hollow. Had Payton timed his explosion any earlier, she would have done so the previous day.

  Susan had to ask, “Is our research really so secret that even a massive explosion, with lives lost, won’t allow us to share it?”

  “Life lost,” Goldman corrected. “Only Payton’s. You told us everyone else survived.”

  “More importantly,” Peters added, “bringing up the study would only harm us, our patients, and psychiatry in general. Nothing good could come of it.”

  Susan found herself stating the obvious. “But the nanorobots had nothing to do with Payton’s actions.” She stopped herself from tacking on a “Did they?” Scientifically, logically, they could not possibly have played a role.

  “Of course not!” Ari said in a tone that implied the mere suggestion was as much blasphemous as stupid.

  Peters continued. “But that wouldn’t stop the masses from believing they did. Look at the fuss people kicked up about genetically modified food. Like we hadn’t been genetically modifying plants and animals for as long as humans have existed. Cavemen probably bred the fastest equid stallion to the fastest equid mare to produce even faster off-spring. We created Chihuahuas from wolves. Yet, pull in a scientist and mention a lab, and the same process is …”

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