I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 3
Stony leaned backward, against the desk again. “All of you will develop a style, and it might change over time. Some of the R-3s, and most of the attendings, believe their way is the only right way. I’m not one of them. I’m more of a hands-off leader. You can’t learn responsibility, or to think for yourselves, if I’m always telling you what to do. These are your patients. If you want to try something different, go ahead. If it’s outlandish, stupid, or dangerous, I guarantee the nurses will run to me before implementing it.”
Susan saw her peers’ heads bobbing in agreement and found herself doing the same thing. With long-term patients, especially children, nurses often became every bit as attached and protective as the parents.
“You’ve probably heard the pediatric inpatient unit is the hardest psych unit, and it is. But it’s also a great place to try new approaches. It takes a serious situation to land a child here, and conventional medicine has already failed them. You’re unlikely to make things worse, and who knows? You might have a brilliant breakthrough that doctors with more rigid ideas have missed.”
Stony looked around the group. “If you’re uncomfortable with the sink-or-swim approach, Clamhead and I are here to help you with any problems or questions. Any. You’re here to treat the patients. We’re here to keep you, and the hospital, out of trouble. So, if you feel you need some backup, or just some advice from someone more experienced, come to Clammy or me.”
Stony reached into a cubby and removed a baseball cap, which he held upside down by the bill. “He called me your peerless leader, but I’m just a resident, like you. Every day, we will round with the real man in charge, our attending physician. He will want to hear about your patients and their progress, and he’s the one you have to impress. Tomorrow, he’ll expect you to give a detailed presentation of each of your patients, so read your charts. After that, he’ll just want to hear what’s new and different. We were lucky enough to get assigned the head of Psychiatry himself, Dr. Kevin Bainbridge.”
Susan’s blood ran cold.
Monk spoke their realization aloud. “Isn’t he the older man who talked to us in the auditorium?”
Kendall hauled out his gravelly old man Bainbridge imitation. “And by working only twelve-hour days, we missed half the good cases.”
The R-1s snickered, and even Stony smiled broadly. “That’s the one. He’s a bit intense, but he’s an excellent diagnostician.” He tapped the Vox on his wrist. “He’s not a fan of devices, though. He prefers you try to memorize every bit of medical knowledge and have it on the tip of your tongue when he asks a question. But he’s also slow enough, you can usually sneak the answer off Vox with a bit of distraction. Just be on time, don’t try to slip out early, look busy even when you’re not, and you’re fine. He growls sometimes, but there’s not a mean bone in the old coot’s body.”
Stony shook the cap, then held it out toward Nevaeh. “I’ve separated patients into reasonably balanced groups of four. Whichever bunch you pick is yours.”
Each of the R-1s took out a torn sheet of paper with Stony’s sloppy writing on it. Susan read hers:
Monterey Zdrazil: 12-yo white female: traumatic mute x 6 years
Dallas “Diesel” Moore: 10-yo black male: psychotic depression, attention deficit hyperactivity, oppositional defiant disorder
Sharicka Anson: 4-yo mixed female: juvenile conduct disorder
Starling Woodruff: 13-yo white female: dementia status post aneurysm repair
Susan stared at the paper, a strange mixture of emotions washing over her: excitement, fear, and uncertainty blending into a cacophonous mix that held her spellbound. My patients, my patients. The awesome responsibility for those children lay in her inexperienced hands. They deserved the best treatment she could devise, the wisest decisions; yet Susan wondered what she could add that previous doctors, more veteran and capable clinicians, had not already considered, discarded, or tried.
Doubts descended upon Susan an instant later. What if I make a mistake? What if I say the wrong thing and further damage their delicate psyches? What if I take away the only medication allowing them to function or add one that causes permanent harm? What if I kill someone?
Susan glanced at her companions. All of them stared at their own small pieces of paper, their expressions sober; and she imagined the same painful insecurities bombarded each of them. Doctors throughout history had contemplated their place in the world, had worried about these same issues, had realized the delicate balance of life, health, and sanity in those they served. Unlike those in other professions, doctors could not afford to have a bad day. A physician who got lazy might make a fatal mistake. Vox and other fast, portable computer-links helped; but the human behind it still had to know enough to put the pieces together, to calculate the direction of thought, and to access the proper information.
No wonder John Calvin considered his work boring. No matter how skillfully a robot performed its job, no matter how magnificent its shape or precise its “fingers,” no matter how much information filled its electronic circuitry, it was only as smart as the person who programmed it. At least, that was how Susan Calvin figured it. A computer might spit out the facts, but only a human could read the subtle signs that altered the course of consideration. One word, one small detail, one momentary thought could change what she chose to research and, therefore, the course of a human life forever.
Apparently recalling the overwhelming grandeur of that “first patient” moment, Stony waited a long time before speaking again. He held out his cap once more, this time with fresh pieces of torn paper. Wrapped in her thoughts, Susan had not even noticed him preparing them. “One of you has to take in-house call tonight,” the R-3 said. “I’ve numbered the papers. Whoever gets ‘one’ is on tonight, ‘two’ tomorrow, et cetera. Clamhead gets night six by default.”
Each of the R-1s drew a new piece of paper. Susan opened hers carefully to display the number one.
Head whirling with the details of the unit and her on-call duties, Susan Calvin sought out a private corner to review patient charts and explore diagnoses and data. All of the residents on the Pediatric Inpatient Psychiatry Unit had stayed late preparing for the next morning’s rounds. They had eaten dinner as a group, where Stony Lipschitz and Clayton Slaubaugh discussed helpful tips, tricks, and ideas for surviving the R-1 year. When the conversation turned to on-call suggestions, given that she had drawn the first night, Susan paid close attention.
And now, palm-pross in hand, she searched for the hidden charting room on the first floor that Stony had mentioned as a favorite on-call hideaway. She found it tucked away between an insulated staircase and the central processing area for information storage. She pushed open the door to reveal a room larger than she had expected. Modular shelving stood in rows, covered with labeled, opaque plastic boxes and well-worn textbooks that seemed to encompass every specialty. To her right, the area opened up into a cozy nook, with two overstuffed couches, three unmatched chairs, and a central table set at perfect height for palm-prosses. Apparently alone, Susan flopped down on one of the couches and placed her little portable on the table.
From her pocket, Susan pulled out the piece of paper with her patients’ information. What next? She considered meeting the children first, before the information in their charts prejudiced her; but the idea seemed foolish. The children had lives and diagnoses that long preceded Susan’s drawing their names from Stony’s baseball cap. They did not just appear from thin air because she needed patients. Though children, they were not innocents, newborn. They had met more doctors in their short lives than most people did in a lifetime. They knew the ins and outs of Manhattan Hasbro Hospital in a way Susan might never understand. Her relationship with each child would surely vary, but they would sense her inexperience and unpreparedness quickly. Better to be armed with knowledge and not need it than to cripple myself with ignorance.
A shadow fell over Susan, then glided onward. Startled, Susan loosed a small noi
Apparently cued by her gasp, the one who had cast the shadow turned. He appeared to be about Susan’s age and was tall enough to play professional basketball. Her father stood six feet eight, and the stranger would look him squarely in the eye. He wore blue hallway scrubs over a slender figure. Short brown hair outlined relatively nondescript features, with average-sized cheeks, nose, ears, and lips. Even his plain brown eyes did not stand out. He moved with a fluid grace that hinted of talent on the dance floor, in martial arts, or even gymnastics. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Instinctively polite, Susan shook her head. “I wasn’t scared. Just startled a bit. I was deep in thought.” She rose and held out her hand. “Susan Calvin, R-1, Psychiatry.”
He took her hand in a gentle but solid grip. They performed the standard brief shake and released. “N8-C. You can call me Nate.”
“N8?” Susan repeated. She had heard some unusual names in recent years, but that one went even beyond the vast and accepted norm. How soon till we’re all just a series of random letters and numbers?
“Eighth in the N-C model line.”
Susan laughed; but, when Nate did not join her, she sobered quickly. “You’re joking, right?”
Nate shook his head. “You do know I’m the resident robot, don’t you?”
Susan chuckled again, alone. “Oh, come on. My father works for a robotics company. If mechanical men as humanoid as you existed, I’d be one of the first to know about it.”
A light flashed through Nate’s eyes. “Susan Calvin. Your father wouldn’t be Dr. John Calvin, would he?”
Susan’s grin disappeared in an instant. “How did you know that?”
Now, Nate finally did laugh. And Susan did not. “John Calvin’s a legend at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. And, currently, USR’s the only legal robotics company in America.”
Susan could only stare. It did not surprise her to discover her brilliant father had made a name for himself in his chosen field, nor that he had so belittled his achievements at home, she had come to believe he held a minor office position. What shocked her was the abrupt realization that she was talking to an actual robot she had so easily mistaken for human. Its answers did not seem stock or pat. It was clearly thinking, generating spontaneous conversation, and was physically and mentally indistinguishable from a human male.
This is a trick. It has to be a trick. Susan blinked her eyes in rapid succession, trying to make sense of the scene in front of her. She was tired, but she was definitely awake. “Come on, now, seriously. The joke’s over.”
Nate tipped his head, his features holding a perfect expression of confusion. “Joke?”
“You’re not really a robot.”
“I’m not?” The look of surprise Nate turned her was clearly supposed to appear feigned. “Then how come I have wires and coils inside instead of organs?”
“Do you?” Susan glanced back at her palm-pross. If she did not get to her research soon, it would be too late to meet any of her patients. She had no intention of rousing them from bed, even if the nurses would allow it. She knew from her M-4 rotations nurses often savagely protected their charges, especially children; and Stony had reinforced that belief when he stated the nurses would come to him before implementing an irregular order written by a new R-1. “I’ve obviously studied human anatomy, and I shook your hand. It’s flesh. You have musculature, bone structure, blood vessels.”
Nate examined his right arm as if for the first time. “Human stem cells coaxed into a dermal and muscular system grown over a skeleton of porous silicone plastic.”
Susan had a scientific mind that did not make exceptions for hope, faith, and the paranormal. However, the science Nate described had concrete possibility, even if only in the future. She considered, lips pursed, hands clenching and unclenching. How long could he have rehearsed this joke? How far would anyone take it?
Nate rolled his eyes. “Ask your father.” He headed back to work.
Susan intended to do so also, but she wanted more information first. “Wait, Nate. Let’s say I believe you. Why are you here? What … exactly do you do?”
Nate turned back to face Susan again. “That depends on whom you ask.” He smiled. “The USR believes my purpose is to demonstrate the usefulness, efficiency, and safety of robots, thereby opening the market for their products. To the hospital administrators, I’m a competent and thorough worker who draws no salary and never complains. To those physicians who know of my existence, aren’t leery of me, and don’t automatically despise all I stand for, I’m a proofreader, fact-checker, footnote-finder, hypothesis-tester, sounding board, source of ideas, and research assistant. To the Society for Humanity —”
Susan found herself interrupting. “The Society for … Humanity? That’s a pretty ambitious title.”
“It’s a bipartisan political action group dedicated to ‘rescuing’ mankind from advanced intelligence, particularly the artificial type, and raising ethical challenges to several forms of robotic and medical technology. Surely you’ve seen them protesting outside?”
Susan could only nod. She had no idea the protestors had a particular name or united cause. “All those protestors are here because of … you?”
Nate pursed his lips, shook his head. “Not me particularly, no. Though not exactly a deep dark secret, my existence has not become common knowledge, either. And the SFH makes up only a small portion of that mob. Some of the other action groups have their own pet concerns: stem cells, prolongation of comatose life, assisted suicide.” He shrugged. “That issue has protestors on both sides. Reproductive technologies of myriad kinds, in-vitro procedures, in-vivo fetal procedures, DNA-based diagnostics, reparation of disabilities, medication benefits versus side effects, appetite suppressants and stimulators in addition to fat-resistance therapies, cosmetic procedures … You name it, someone is vehemently for or against it. Manhattan Hasbro has had throngs of protestors since long before my creation. They’ve become such a normal and expected part of medicine, they don’t even make the news without resorting to profound and extreme measures.”
Susan suddenly understood the full significance of Manhattan Hasbro commandment number one — don’t engage protestors in any fashion — and why Manhattan Hasbro had entire wings devoted to legal matters and to ethical ones. If this trend continues, lawyers and ethicists will soon outnumber doctors in the medical setting.
Nate shrugged, still looking at Susan with an all-too-human expression. “The Society for Humanity would have me disassembled in an instant and my positronic brain erased. That’s why I’m sent to the less populated areas of the hospital: record keeping, research, copyediting, and the like. I used to act as an orderly, but I don’t get to do that very often anymore. And when I’m near the general public, I can’t mention I’m robotic.”
“You could do so much more,” Susan realized aloud. The possibilities seemed endless. She could think of twelve grand ideas with only a moment to consider the matter.
Nate only nodded. “May I go now?”
“Of course.” Susan waved a hand, feeling guilty for keeping him so long. She looked at her Vox, which currently read 8:08 p. m. Within the hour, the staff on the PIPU would be putting her patients to bed, not long enough to do significant research. She would have to wait until the morning to see them, but she could study their charts overnight, which already gave her a leg up on the other R-1s. They would have to come in early to prepare before rounds.
When Susan looked up from her wrist, Nate had already disappeared.
Susan sat for a moment in consideration. Was that really a robot, or just a human male with knowledge of my family and an odd sense of humor? She did not know for sure, but her instincts told her she had actually conversed with the highest level of artificial intelligence mankind could currently create. Yet, to believe her instincts meant her near-perfect father had misled
Susan stared at her Vox, driven to call John Calvin and straighten out the situation as swiftly and decisively as possible. In the end, logic won out over impatience. It made far more sense to wait for a face-to-face confrontation, where she could read his every expression and prevent him from disengaging until she had her answers.
For now, Susan Calvin returned her attention to her palm-pross and to her patients’ diagnoses and histories, hoping no emergencies cropped up during the night. It seemed the one advantage of starting her residency on a chronic ward with numerous rigid protocols. She would, almost certainly, get a full and good night’s sleep.
As Susan expected, the other R-1s came in early the following morning to cram their patients’ charts before Dr. Bainbridge arrived for morning rounds. Later in the month, the chain of command would go in the opposite direction, but for now, the residents remained mostly silent as the nurses made tactful “suggestions” for changing orders and ways to handle patients they already knew well.
Having done her patient research the previous night, Susan found time to make brief visits to her charges. She began with Monterey Zdrazil, knocking on the child’s door. As expected from a traumatic mute, Susan received no answer. She edged the door open a crack and peeked inside to make certain she had not caught the girl in an inconvenient stage of dress.
Skinny and chalky white, the twelve-year-old sat in bed, her back rigid against the headboard. She wore her brown hair short, hacked into a functional, masculine style. Dressed in a red T-shirt with a rainbow motif and faded blue jeans, she stared solemnly at the far wall, which was decorated with a collage of colorful get-well cards and children’s drawings.
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