I robot to protect book.., p.31

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 31


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  “It’s neither of those.”

  Remington guessed, “Lesbian?”


  His voice became strained. “Cancer?”

  Susan let him off the hook. “I’m a virgin.”

  Remington studied her face. He did not appear shocked, just more tightly braced, as if he waited for the other shoe to fall. Finally, he said in a strangely squeaky voice, “That’s it?”

  “That’s it. I’m a genetic woman with all of the working parts.” Susan swiftly amended her statement. “Well, they’re working as far as cycling and all. To my knowledge, there’s only one virgin who’s ever given birth.”

  Remington cleared his throat, then spoke in his normal voice. “A virgin, huh? Well, that’s nothing bad.”

  “In some circles, it’s considered a major achievement. After all, I’m twenty-six years old.” Susan did not want Remington to get the wrong idea. “Not that I haven’t had opportunities, of course. I mean I started dating in high school. It’s just I’ve always felt a person should be in love before making love.”

  “And,” Remington started carefully, “you love me?”

  “I do,” Susan admitted, then wished she had phrased it any other way. She did not want him to think she was rushing him into marriage when they had barely even managed a second date.

  Remington did not seem to notice. “And I love you?”

  “Are you asking me? Or telling me?”

  “Haven’t I already told you?”

  Susan recognized a pattern. “Why do we keep answering each other’s questions with another question?”

  Remington grinned and gave the obvious answer, “Why not?” Then the smile disappeared, and he drew her back to him. “Seriously, Susan. I’m a man; I’m always ready. But I’m not going to push you into anything. I can wait as long as you need.”

  “I’m ready,” Susan said, then realized the folly of her words. She glanced around the park. “Well, not immediately, of course. Tonight, though. We’ll barricade ourselves in my bedroom.”

  “Ooh-kay.” Remington did not seem wholly comfortable with the suggestion. “But what about your father?”

  “He can find his own date.”

  “Funny.” Remington rolled his eyes. “I just mean, will he be all right with our spending the night together in his apartment?”

  Though she had never tested him, Susan felt certain John Calvin could handle the situation. “He’ll have to. When he asked me to stay with him, he knew I was a grown woman. And I pay my share of rent.”

  To Susan’s surprise that did not put Remington at ease. When he did not explain why, she pressed. “What’s wrong?”

  “Well,” he said softly, “I have a lot of respect for your dad, and I want him to like me.”

  “He does like you,” Susan reassured him. “And he’s aware that twentysomethings have …”

  Remington remained quiet.

  “What?” Susan demanded.

  “Well, parents and kids are funny about that. I mean, I know my parents must have done it at least three times and probably a lot more, but I don’t want to imagine it. Or know it’s happening. I’d rather just pretend they grew us in the cabbage patch; you know what I mean?”

  Susan understood, though she did not share his sentiment. She wished her father would date rather than moon over a woman he had lost so long ago, even if she was Susan’s own mother. “I know what you mean, but I don’t see it as a problem. I’ll talk to him first, if you want.”

  Remington’s cheeks took on a reddish hue. “This may sound ridiculously old-fashioned, but do you mind if I talk to him?”

  Susan gave him a pointed look. “You want to ask my father if you can … have sex with me?”

  “Well, actually, I thought I’d phrase it more as you asked me to stay over, and I wanted to make sure he didn’t have a problem with it before I agreed to do it.”

  “Oh,” Susan said facetiously. “Make me look like the slut.”

  Remington did not rise to the bait. “By now, he surely knows you don’t invite men to sleep over every day.” He gave her a wide-eyed look. “You don’t invite men to sleep over every day, do you?”

  Susan put as much sarcasm into her voice as she could muster. “Sure, I do. Then I poison their toothpaste.” She added, as if fielding the thought for the first time, “You don’t suppose that might be why I’m still a virgin?”

  “Could be.” Remington rose. “No time like the present.”

  Susan also stood. “You’re going to ask him right now?”

  “No.” Though he had gotten up with vigor, Remington seemed hesitant to take the next step. “But I do want to talk with him a bit. I think I’d like to get to know the man a little better before I ask if he minds terribly much if I steal his daughter’s virginity.”

  “It’s not stealing if I give it to you.” Susan took Remington’s hand and led him back toward the building.

  When Susan and Remington returned to the Calvins’ apartment, they discovered John Calvin striding from his bedroom in dress clothes, his fingers on his Vox. When he spotted the pair, he removed his hand, smiling. “Ah, there you are. I was just going to call you. I’m heading in to work.”

  “Work?” Susan paused halfway to the living room chair. “I thought you couldn’t go. Structural damage.”

  “I’m not actually working. We’re just having a short meeting, taking a look at the damage. That sort of thing.”

  It occurred to Susan that, with her father gone for hours, it might obviate the whole issue of Remington’s needing to sleep over. She could feel her heart hammering against her ribs and a lump forming in her throat. A mixture of excitement, relief, and fear washed through her.

  “Can we go with you, sir?” Remington said, then corrected himself. “John?”

  “I’m not a knight of the realm,” Susan’s father said jokingly.

  Susan might have grinned at the realization that her father did not kid with just anyone, so he must like Remington; but she found herself too surprised by the neurosurgeon’s request to consider that long. “You want to go downtown? Near the bomb site?”

  “I think it might do us both some good. Plus, I’d really like to see the place where Nate was built, and those nanorobots.”

  Susan could not help remembering she had initiated the exact same trip the day Payton had hijacked their bus. “I’ve been wanting to see where you work, too, Dad. I can’t believe I’ve never gone before.”

  John Calvin toed his usual line. “Kitten, it’s boring. There’s nothing there but a bunch of middle-aged guys and some laboratory benches covered in tangles of wires.”

  No longer swayed by his words, Susan gave her father a stormy look. “Tangles of wires that bring plastic and steel and skin cells to life.” She pictured Nate. “Come on, Dad. We almost got blown up along with your building. Can’t you take us this once?”

  John Calvin looked from one to the other. “You really want to go?”

  Susan wondered if her father had gone stupid. “Of course, I want to go. You’ve worked there my whole life, and I’ve never even seen the outside of the building. Now that I’m actually involved in a USR project, I can’t believe I haven’t gone yet.” Susan understood her own reasons, but she wasn’t sure she understood Remington’s. Obviously, the creation and animation of robots intrigued him, particularly since he had met Nate, and the nanorobot project seemed to fascinate him as well.

  “All right,” John Calvin said. The words emerged halfheartedly, and his smile seemed forced. “But don’t get your expectations too high. There are places even I can’t go, and a few things got unexpectedly shuffled after the damage to the building.”

  Remington held the door. “Lead the way, Sir John.”

  John Calvin gave him a look Susan knew well. “As you wish, Sir Remy.” With a flourishing bow, he headed out the door.

  Susan followed, and Remington took the rear, closing the door behind him.

  A drab, grayish, rectangul
ar building of insignificant size, U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., did not stand out in any way from the offices and shops around it. Before the bomb explosion, it had displayed no sign or other identifying features; but, now, the front was marred by divots and patches of scorching. The front edge of the roof looked chaotically scalloped, as if some horror-movie monster had struck it with a claw. Otherwise, the building appeared to be intact.

  Focused on the building with laserlike intensity, Susan nearly missed the other telltale signs of a recent catastrophe. Cued by her father’s worried glance around, Susan opened her mind to the obvious details. Blinking police caution tape enclosed the area, and hazard blockades sat at either end of the street. The burnt, twisted, and sodden remains of the glide-bus still occupied part of the street, where a police forensics team conferred, taking myriad tiny samples. A tangled array of metal stood like a perverted piece of art, jutting from blackened concrete; and it took Susan a moment to recognize the remains of the bus stop. A dark pool of blood marred the sidewalk, connected to an erratic trail. Susan remembered its origin: She had eased a piece of glass from a woman’s thigh, only to have her run in panic when it came free. Remington had had to tackle her to allow Susan to hold pressure on the injury.

  The memory brought a deep frown to Susan’s face. She had never understood why desperate circumstances brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. In emergencies, Susan had always noticed time seemed to slow down for her. When a driver swerved into her path, or a patient went into cardiac arrest, she felt as if she had all the time in the world to take evasive action or to recall the sequence of emergency procedures. Some other people seemed to freeze and grow desperately pale, or dithered wildly and purposelessly, and still more screamed and ran in some random direction, which usually only served to worsen the situation. She had even seen fellow students, male and female, faint dead away in a crisis.

  Susan appreciated that one’s reaction to disaster was a natural phenomenon, not under the control of the individual. Obviously, those prone to calm thought belonged in occupations such as law enforcement, military, traffic control, and medicine, where potentially life-threatening calamities arose often and required quick wits and action. She appreciated that Remington appeared to have nerves of steel. She could think of nothing more important for someone operating on people’s brains and spinal cords, and she did not know if she could have respected a man who panicked in a crisis, no matter how natural and understandable the reaction.

  A hand fell to Susan’s shoulder. Startled from her thoughts, Susan looked up to her father, his face screwed up in pain.

  Abruptly concerned, Susan grabbed his hand. “Are you all right?”

  “Me?” Her father’s features shifted instantly from discomfort to clear confusion. “I was worried about you. Are you okay coming here so soon?”

  “I’m fine. I can’t say it’s not weird seeing it again, but I’m not suffering from post-traumatic anxiety or anything.” Susan glanced past him at Remington, who seemed more interested in the USR building than in the wreckage. “Remy seems fine, too.”

  At the sound of his name, Remington looked at Susan. “Hmm?”

  “I said you don’t seem to be suffering from post-traumatic anxiety.”

  “No. Should I be?”

  “I hope not,” Susan said, “because I’m not, either.”

  Apparently intuiting the original source of concern, Remington addressed John Calvin. “If anyone should know, she should.” He jerked a thumb toward Susan and whispered as if revealing a dangerous secret, “She’s a headshrinker.”

  Susan’s father chuckled. “Yes, indeed she is. And a good one, so I’ve heard.”

  Though merely banter, the words made Susan cringe. “Well, you didn’t hear it from me. I sent a psychopath home to murder her sister and maim her brother, then couldn’t talk a schizophrenic out of blowing up a bus.” Those two enormous failures would weigh heavily on her conscience, she believed, for all eternity. She ground her teeth as guilt swam down upon her again. In her mind, the blood of Misty Anson would always stain her hands.

  “Ah,” Remington said. “So now we measure success and failure by whether or not crazy people act crazy?”

  Susan turned him a withering look. “That is my job, Remy. To keep crazy people from doing crazy things.”

  “First of all,” he reminded her, “Payton Flowers was never your patient. You didn’t treat him, you didn’t medicate him, and you didn’t know him any better than I did. As for …” He paused, surely considering confidentiality. Payton Flowers had become a household name since the police had released his identity, but Sharicka and her family still had a reasonable expectation of privacy. “As for the girl, you took a calculated risk, and the worst happened. Learn from it and move on.”

  Susan wanted to do that; but, while awake and in her dreams, she found herself reliving the moment when Sharicka’s mother had asked her opinion. “Who says I’m not moving on?”

  “The person who watched you say nothing when a man announced his plans to blow us up.”

  Susan wanted to clobber both of the men in her life. “What are you saying? That I was afraid to try to dissuade Payton because I felt inadequate after allowing Sh —” She caught herself, then continued. “That little girl a deadly home visit?”

  Both men only looked at her, brows raised like psychiatrists who have just tricked a patient into breakthrough self-analysis.

  Susan shook her head so hard, her hair whipped her face. “I didn’t act on the bus because I didn’t know Payton well enough. I didn’t know what would provoke or deter him. Besides, I didn’t really believe he had a working bomb.”

  “Okay.” Remington said in that aggravating tone men use when they hand over a reluctant victory for the sole purpose of ending an argument.

  Susan felt her limbs shaking. The whole ordeal seemed to crash down on her at once: the terror, the helplessness, and the realization she alone might have had the power to stop it.

  Suddenly, Susan found herself enfolded in Remington’s embrace. “I’m sorry,” he whispered directly into her ear. “I’m sorry about what I said. I was wrong.”

  Susan trembled in his arms, cursing her weakness. Tears streamed down her face. “You’re not wrong, Remy. I just didn’t realize it before. I consider myself so strong; but, when it came to preventing a tragedy, I froze.”

  “You didn’t freeze. You just didn’t take a chance. As it turned out, your decision to say nothing wasn’t wrong.”

  Susan had to admit the worst had not come to pass. “I might have stopped the whole process,” she choked out. “I might have saved his life.”

  “Maybe.” Remington squeezed her tightly and closed his eyes. “Or he might have freaked out and detonated the bomb with everyone on board. My point wasn’t that it was in any way your fault. I’m just saying, if you start overquestioning your every decision because of one mishap, you deprive the world of your obvious and incredible brilliance.”

  John Calvin stepped aside, wisely allowing Remington to handle the situation, though his fatherly instincts had to ache.

  Susan sank to the ground.

  Remington squatted in front of her. “You’re the one condemning both situations as personal failures and taking the burden of guilt on yourself. Medicine is an art, not a science. You use as much knowledge and thought as you can, but it reaches a point where you have to play the odds and intuition. A postsurg patient gets septic. Was it the glove that broke and had to be changed midprocedure? Was it the sneeze? Or was it simply inevitable? The Guzman procedure works best for sixty-two percent of people with early spinal cord separation. You use it on a patient, and he winds up quadriplegic. Could he have led a perfectly normal life had you gone with the Striker technique? Would the outcome have been exactly the same, or would he have died? Life has a lot of forks. Just because the consequences of choosing one was bad doesn’t mean the others would have been any better.”

  Susan underst
ood his point. “But had I not sent her home, her sister would still be alive. Her brother would not have had to undergo emergency neurosurgery. Her parents would not have been devastated.”

  “Her parents were already devastated,” Remington said firmly. “Long before you came into the picture.”

  “Yes, but …” Susan forced back the tears, and a sob shuddered from her in its place. “But things would have been so much better. At least, the sister would be alive.”

  “Would she?”

  The question seemed ludicrous. “Of course she would.”

  “Because, if you had not sent your patient on a home visit that particular day, no one else would have done so. Ever.”

  Susan finally managed to get control. “I’m sorry I’m blubbering like a baby. You’d never believe, just prior to this meltdown, I was thinking about how well I handle stress.”

  “Answer the question,” John Calvin said quietly.

  Susan’s father did not issue commands often, and Susan always took them seriously. “Well, of course, she would have gone on a home visit eventually. When she was more stable.”

  “More stable than what?”

  Susan flicked her gaze back to Remington, who had asked the question. “More stable than she obviously was.”

  Remington released her, shook his head, and started to rise.

  Susan wiped away the last of the tears. She felt ashamed of her weakness and hoped it would not drive Remington away. “Just ignore me. I got overwhelmed by the moment.” She glanced around at the carnage. “I guess the whole ordeal hit me harder than I thought.”

  Remington smiled and offered his hand. “Ah, so the great Dr. Susan Calvin is … human, eh? Who’d have guessed it?”

  Susan took his hand and forced her own weak smile. She hated the thought of appearing weak, promised herself not to let it happen again.

  John Calvin waited patiently while they sorted themselves out before saying, “Ready?”

  Back in full control, Susan said, “Ready.”

  Her father approached the door, scanning palm and retina simultaneously, a foolproof security system that required a person to stand in one precise spot and position. The door whisked open to reveal a stuffy, austere foyer containing only a large, semicircular desk. A woman wearing too much makeup sat behind it, partially obscured by a large computer console that clearly controlled more than the standard palm-pross. “Good afternoon, John,” she said cheerfully. “They’re meeting in Lawrence’s office.” She looked over Susan and Remington. “It appears you need a couple of guest passes.”

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