I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 28
Remembering her dad’s words, Susan finished, “Frankenstein’s monster?”
“Yes!” Cody shouted. “That’s it, exactly. We can pollinate and graft to make seedless grapes, but introduce a strand of fat carrot DNA into a skinny carrot and it’s Frankenstein’s freaking, green-haired, orange monster.”
Despite her ordeal, Susan managed a chuckle.
When Cody Peters started sounding more like his laboratory partner, Susan knew he had a genuinely vital cause. “So I’m not to let people know the Manhattan bus bomber had nanorobots in his cerebrospinal fluid.”
Ari confirmed, “Not on pain of death. I only wish someone had managed to stop him before —”
“The poor guy lost his life?” Peters tried.
“Yes, of course,” Ari said gruffly. “That’s precisely what I was going to say.”
“I’ll bet,” Peters mumbled in the background.
Susan found herself smiling. She enjoyed the way the scientists interacted. “Well, I’m not talking, at least not to anyone who doesn’t already know. But don’t you think proper scientific procedure mandates we make absolutely certain our meddling didn’t have anything to do with … what happened?”
Silence followed. Susan had the sudden feeling she had stepped into dangerous territory.
“Our … ‘meddling’?” Ari finally said tentatively.
Having brought up the topic, Susan could not back down yet. “In science, we never say never.”
Peters changed the subject. “Hey, we injected that patient you recommended yesterday. What a cutie.”
Susan stiffened. “Sharicka Anson? You injected her?”
Goldman took over. “It was your day off, not ours. We didn’t want to wait, so we dusted off our skills and did it ourselves.”
“She’s an absolute doll,” Peters added. “Are you sure she’s a mental patient?”
Susan rolled her eyes. “The worst kind, Dr. Peters. Antisocial personality. Manipulative, crafty, highly intelligent … and a vicious killer.”
Dead silence followed. Clearly, her words shocked both men.
“Did I lose you?”
“No, just surprised us. Well, in a couple of weeks, we should know what makes her tick.”
An explosive mechanism perhaps? Susan kept the sarcasm to herself. “Hopefully, we’ll learn something that can save her. And what’s left of her family.”
“Yeah. So, when ya coming back?”
Susan stretched. “They told me I couldn’t step on the unit for two weeks. They didn’t say anything about the lab, though, so I may be able to sneak back sooner.”
“Well, don’t rush it,” Peters said kindly. “We have enough mental patients in our studies. We don’t need one working for us as well.”
“I’m fine.” Susan tried to reassure them. She did feel all right, rather like she’d had a near miss on the highway: a flash of adrenaline, a moment of terror, then back to normal. She doubted she would forget the ordeal soon, but she did not think it left some sort of terrible and lasting impression on her psyche.
“Good,” Ari said gruffly, though he clearly meant it. “We have three patients ready and waiting. Come back when you can. We’ll see you then.”
“All right.” Susan prepared to disconnect. “Good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” Peters sang out before cutting off the connection.
Susan sat back. She had not slept well. Her head felt stuffy and her eyelids heavy. She was considering dropping back off to sleep, when a soft knock at the door roused her. “Come in, Dad.”
John Calvin poked his head through the crack. “Were you awake?”
“Talking on Vox, in fact.” Susan knew it would upset him to think he had bothered her. “Come on in.”
John slid into the room with a warm smile that could not fully hide his concern. “Are you feeling all right?”
Susan sighed. “Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m perfectly fine.”
John cocked an eyebrow. “Perfectly?”
“All right, a bit shaken, but otherwise okay. I’m not a paper flower.”
“No.” John Calvin sat on the edge of Susan’s bed. “But you’re my baby, and you almost died. It’s normal to feel rotten after something like that.”
Susan grinned. “Thank you, Dr. Calvin. Would you like to write me a prescription for Muzon now?” She named a popular antianxiety drug.
John laughed. “Very funny.”
“Seriously, Dad.” Susan supposed she ought to feel worse than she did. She had always had a strong personality, but she knew near-death experiences could shake even the most stolid to their core. “I’m fine. I don’t think I really internalized the danger until the actual explosion. By then, it was essentially over.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Susan tipped her head. Do I? She did not feel strongly one way or the other. “Dad, do you know much about the nanorobots your company makes?”
John Calvin’s brows dropped, and his forehead furrowed. “Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Because, less than a week ago, I injected them into the bomber’s cerebrospinal fluid. He had a head full of nanorobots when he hijacked that bus.”
John Calvin stared. “What?” he finally said, though he had surely heard her. “You knew the hijacker? And he had USR nanorobots in him?”
As she had said exactly that, Susan saw no reason to confirm his questions. “Could there be a connection?”
John’s brows knitted even further. His forehead became a mass of wrinkles. “I can’t imagine one. But I also can’t fathom the odds that the one man who goes utterly bonkers also happens to be one of three or four people with nanorobots in him.”
To her own surprise, Susan took the opposite side. “Well, I’m not sure the odds are all that enormous. Remember, we picked the most hopelessly mentally ill patients in Manhattan for the study. When you realize how sick a man has to be to hijack a bus, I suppose the overlap is obvious.”
“Yes,” John said, but his brows remained in place, his forehead still lined. “How long has this hijacker been hopelessly mentally ill?”
“Years, now. Why?”
“And how many buses has he hijacked?”
Susan chuckled. “Just the one, Dad. It’s tough to blow yourself up twice.” Despite the joke, she recognized the significance of his questioning. She had spent hours researching the same information. “And, no, he had no history of committing prior acts of violence, except just before he got diagnosed. That time, he jumped off the roof of a building.”
“To kill himself?”
Susan supposed confidentiality went by the wayside when a man murdered himself in a public spectacle. “That’s not clear. He claimed he thought he could fly, but he was also plagued by inexplicable hallucinations, worried he was going insane. In the hospital, he expressed the desire to escape, to end it all.” She gave him the condensed version of a convoluted story. “About ten percent of people with … his diagnosis commit suicide.”
“What percentage hijack buses?”
Susan shook her head. “I couldn’t give you an exact figure, but I’m sure it’s less than one in a million. On the other hand, nearly all unmedicated schizophrenics act irrationally, and quite a few are prone to violence.”
“Was this man?”
“Prone to violence.”
Susan knew the answer. “Not according to his medical history, no.” She sighed deeply. That had her flummoxed as well. “From what I know from the medical literature, and what I’ve read from the Net, schizophrenics who kill usually have a pattern: poor school performance, a cruel streak that starts even before the illness, compulsions to kill, and hallucinations of murder or voices commanding them to kill.” She shook her head. “Schizophrenic killings are rarely premeditated, either. They’re more likely to whirl around on a crowded street to strangle the woman they believe is beaming radio waves into their brain. Or run over a neighbor they’re convinced puts thought-c
“So masterminding a hijacking and bombing …?”
“Is unexpected, yes.” Susan said. “I was scared on the bus; I knew we might all die. But I don’t think my subconscious ever really accepted it. A fanatic with a bomb would have frightened me to the core, but a schizophrenic?” She shook her head. “Much more likely, he got a wild hair, snatched up a coil of wire and a garage door opener, then convinced himself he had a bomb.”
“Except that he had a real bomb.”
“Where do you suppose he got it? Did he have the knowledge and wherewithal to make it himself?”
Susan paused to think about it. “That’s a great question, Dad. I imagine the police are asking the same thing.” She considered longer. “According to his mother, he had a brilliant mind prior to his illness, which means he might understand a schematic. On the other hand, he was a prelaw student. That’s not usually the realm of the bomb-building types. They’re usually more math and science oriented.” She shook her head. “He had never shown an interest in such things before. On his medications, I don’t believe he would have any desire to build a bomb. Off them, I don’t think he would have the concentration or focus.”
John Calvin’s face returned to normal, but he rubbed his chin with a thumbnail, clearly deep in thought himself. “So, in your professional opinion, someone gave him this bomb.”
Susan had not considered it before, but it made sense. “I don’t think he could have built it himself, and it’s not like you can go to the downtown bomb store and purchase two or three.” She raised her knees under the covers and drew them up to her neck. “Paranoid schizophrenics aren’t known to be good judges of character. If he tried to hire someone to make it, he probably would have gone to someone perfectly innocent, someone who, in his mentally ill mind, could construct such a thing. I doubt whoever he asked wouldn’t have reported it to someone: family, his doctor, the police.”
“So, it’s more likely someone recruited him. Gave him the bomb, showed him how to use it, and talked him into doing it.”
Susan nodded. “Yeah.”
John Calvin made a thoughtful noise.
“Do you think we should take our ideas to the police?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.” John studied his daughter. “You told them about him, didn’t you?”
Susan raised and lowered one shoulder. “I gave them his name, told them I’m a psychiatry resident, and mentioned I knew him from the hospital. I didn’t tell them his diagnosis, though. I could get in trouble for violating confidentiality.” She repeated the movement. “Potentially, I could get in trouble for telling you.” She doubted that would happen. Once the media got hold of Payton’s name, every outlet would be blasting his diagnosis. Discussion groups would form, demanding to know why no one had recognized his illness, why he was not admitted to a hospital for treatment, why his doctors were to blame. Fingers would point in all directions. Then some new scandal would rock the city, and Payton’s actions would be forgotten. Nothing would change; nothing ever seemed to change.
Once upon a time, people with serious psychiatric illnesses spent their days in facilities that could handle them, in a controlled and exquisitely structured environment. Their relatives visited them on a schedule that suited their individual needs. The patient with psychosis could live in a world that made sense to him, where his delusions could be safely indulged, where he could find some comfortable form of logic and security.
Then, in the 1970s, some good-hearted people decided it was cruel to keep people in asylums all their lives. It did not all turn out badly. As medical science advanced, the needs of those with emotional difficulties and neuroses, those with milder psychoses treatable with psychotherapy, with surgery, with ever-improving medications, thrived in their new and open environment.
But, for some, their psychoses remained incurable; and their needs were vastly different. They had functioned better within the confines of an institution, had relied on the structure and predictable routine for even a semblance of normalcy. For those patients with lifelong, severe psychiatric disorders, the outside world was a dark and dangerous place. And so, they lashed out on occasion, leaving murder and mayhem in their wakes, or became crime victims themselves, or lived and died in grimy squalid conditions on the streets.
Doctors could hold patients only if they could prove imminent homicidal or suicidal intent, and then only for a maximum of two weeks’ time. It required a perceptive psychiatrist with the luck of seeing his patient just before he committed a criminal act, as well as an honest patient in strong enough mind to admit his nefarious plans.
“Did you mention the nanorobots?” her father asked, not quite casually enough.
Susan groaned. “Et tu, Father?”
John Calvin looked at her curiously.
“I just got off Vox with Goldman and Peters. They wanted to make sure I didn’t say anything about their study. Their concern is, if word got out, it would torpedo their research and set robotics back another century.”
Susan expected her father to react more than he did. “They’re right about that, Susan. Antirobot prejudice has held the field back more than any other. We have capabilities far beyond what we’re using, and we’re stuck in beta-testing land for most of them. We can access entertainment anytime, anywhere. There’s a whole world of information at the touch of a Vox. But when it comes to robotics, the Jetsons have made more progress than we have.”
Susan chuckled. “I know you’re right. I’ve met Nate.” A sudden thought derailed the conversation. “Dad, it’s after ten on a Tuesday. Shouldn’t you be at work?”
John Calvin flopped a leg across Susan’s bed. “The explosion happened pretty close to the building. There was some minor structural damage. I’ve got the rest of the week off.”
The explanation gripped Susan in a way it should not have. Something bothered her about it. A flash of memory returned, a man blocking her way into the building and warning her to stop working on the project. She dropped her knees to the bed. “Dad, do you think that might have been deliberate?”
“That someone recruited a paranoid schizophrenic with nanorobots in his brain to blow up U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men?”
A light flickered through John Calvin’s eyes, then disappeared. “Who would know enough about the project to do that?”
“I don’t know.” Susan studied her fingernails. She generally kept them short, as most doctors did. A small amount of white protruded above the pink; they needed clipping again. “But someone Goldman and Peters thought came from the Society for Humanity knew I was involved in the project, as well as the general gist of it. He warned me away from ‘creating cyborgs.’”
“Hmm.” John Calvin’s discomfort became more apparent. He entwined his fingers and tapped the index ones together, a familiar, nervous gesture. “The study itself had to leave at least a small electronic trail. But confidentiality should have protected your patient’s identity.”
“Unless we have a mole of some kind. Either at USR or the hospital.” Susan considered further. “Or, maybe, they didn’t know. Maybe their recruiting our patient really is a coincidence.” Even as she spoke, Susan found the connection too unlikely to believe it an accident.
Her father made another thoughtful noise. “If it was deliberate, we’ll know soon enough. The SFH won’t let it go without publicity.” He shook his head, clearly flummoxed. “It’s not their style to release potential victims before activating a bomb. They’ve murdered ruthlessly in the name of their cause before, and a busload of flying corpses would have generated a lot more publicity.”
Susan shivered. The last comment struck too close to home. Hers would have been one of those flying corpses. “Maybe they instructed him to blow us up, but nonviolent Payt
“Maybe.” John Calvin rose. “I’d like to make some inquiries and discuss this with some colleagues. I think you’re right about too many coincidences: A formerly peaceful schizophrenic with nanorobots in his system hijacks a bus, takes it right in front of USR, and blows it and himself to kingdom come.”
“In all fairness, he did it at one of the bus’ regular stops.”
John’s head jerked toward her. “You mean he kept making the stops? Why didn’t anyone get off?”
Susan laughed. “He drove past several stops before choosing that one.” That only bolstered her father’s theory. “I guess you’re right; he could have been targeting something in that area. Quite possibly USR.”
John Calvin twisted his lips thoughtfully. “Breakfast is in the microwave. Do you need anything before I go on Vox for some long conversations?”
Susan threw back the covers. “Nope. I’m going out myself.”
“Out?” Her father returned to her side. “Are you sure that’s wise? So soon after … what happened?”
“I’m fine,” she reminded him.
“Where are you going?”
“To the hospital.” Susan climbed out of bed and headed for her dressers.
“I thought you were forbidden —”
“From the unit, but not from the entire hospital. I have to visit Remy, and I’d like to talk to Goldman and Peters about our discussion.”
“Remy?” Concern etched John Calvin’s face. “Was he badly hurt?”
“Just a piece of … bus shrapnel in his shoulder, as far as I saw. But he shielded me from the explosion, and he may have taken some concussive forces. They wanted to observe him, at least overnight.”
Opening the drawers, Susan tossed out a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
John Calvin took the hint. “Good luck,” he said. “I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”