I robot to protect book.., p.32

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 32

 

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1
 



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  John Calvin smiled at the woman. “Thank you, Amara. This is my daughter, Susan, and her boyfriend, Remy.”

  Amara winked. “I figured as much. Not only do you bear a resemblance, but I recognized Susan from the eight hundred pictures in your office.” She tapped a couple of keys on her desktop, a printer beneath it hummed, and she pulled out two small, square pieces of paper. Stuffing each into a plastic holder with a thin lanyard, she handed them to John Calvin. Susan could now read the word VISITOR on each. She accepted one, slung it around her neck, then gave the other to Remington. He took his and put it on with the same deft flick of his hand.

  “This way.” John led Susan and Remington toward one of five doors, this one bearing the name LAWRENCE ROBERTSON. He knocked firmly, paused briefly, then opened it.

  Apparently cued by the knock, three men in dress polos sat in silence, all looking at the opening door. One stood up behind an enormous mahogany desk that held a half dozen palm-prosses; two digital frames; a mass of books, mostly hard copies bound in large folders; an enormous printer combo; and a surprising amount of paper, most of which seemed to contain circuitry maps. Loose computational chips also floated through the mess. The other two men sat on comfortable-looking, but mismatched, chairs, while three more empty chairs were spaced around the room.

  The man behind the desk said, “Hey, John!” He gave Susan a warm and genuine smile. “This must be the younger Dr. Calvin you’re always talking about.” He came around the desk and extended his hand. “I’m Lawrence Robertson.”

  From the reverent tone with which her father always spoke his name, Susan had pictured someone older, even though she knew they had been college roommates. He appeared to be about her father’s age, with dark, wavy hair, a large mouth, and a rugged complexion. He carried a touch of gray at the temples that perfectly matched his pale, friendly eyes. Susan knew he had founded the company the year she was born. He must have done so in his early twenties, already the genius behind the positronic brain. She gripped his hand firmly. It was dry, solid, and powerful.

  “And this is Susan’s boyfriend, Remington Hawthorn. He’s a neurosurgeon.”

  Susan wished her father would stop referring to Remington as her boyfriend. It made her sound twelve years old.

  Lawrence Robertson released her hand to reach for Remington’s.

  Remington clasped it. “You can call me Remy.”

  “Remy, it is. And you can call me Lawrence.”

  Susan did not feel any more comfortable referring to the founder of U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men by his first name than Remington did her father. She wondered if she could get away with “Sir Lawrence.”

  Lawrence continued the introductions by pointing to a frumpy-looking, balding man in wrinkled dress clothing. “This is my director of research, Alfred Lanning.”

  “How do?” Alfred mumbled when no one stepped close enough to shake hands.

  “And one of our top roboticists, George Franklin.” George did not wait for them to come to him. A tall, gangly youth, he crossed to the center of the room in a single step to shake hands with Susan and Remington. “Pleased to meet you.”

  Lawrence Robertson stepped back behind his desk, his gaze still on Susan. “So, young lady, when are you joining us on staff?”

  “Me?” Susan could make no sense of the question. “I’m a psychiatry resident. I can’t imagine you need one of those at a robot factory.”

  The men sniggered gently, except for Alfred Lanning, who gave the suggestion actual thought. “As complex as the positronic brain has become, I could see us putting a robot or two on the couch.”

  “Not to mention the staff,” Lawrence added smoothly. “You have to be a bit nutty to work here.”

  Not to be outdone, Remington added his piece. “I could just picture a robot lying on his analyst’s couch: ‘Doc, I know my intelligence is artificial, but my problems are real.’”

  Everyone chuckled, except Remington himself. As George retook his seat, Susan joined Alfred in giving the idea real thought, or at least appearing to do so. “I can’t speak for the staff, but the robots shouldn’t be too hard to analyze. Ethically, they have to conform to the Three Laws of Robotics, right? That doesn’t leave a whole lot of wriggle room, really.”

  John Calvin took one of the chairs. “I think it’s the general public who needs the help. We could hire a team of psychiatrists to eradicate the Frankenstein Complex, and people would still be worrying that robots are going to take their jobs, obliterate their privacy … and eat them.”

  George nodded grimly. “Well, I suppose the risk of having a psychiatrist on staff would be the further reaction of the public.” He made a gesture toward the ceiling that Susan took to symbolize “the sky is the limit.” “They’d be imagining a two-ton hunk of metal with the capacity to smash a girder running around clinically depressed.”

  Lawrence shook his head, still grinning. Clearly, he had asked Susan out of politeness, the kind of question all bosses address to a favored employee’s children. “Well, John, we’re still waiting for Javonte and Keagan. Why don’t you give your guests a short tour?”

  “That’s all I can give them.” John rose and ushered Susan and Remington toward the door. “We’re not large to begin with, and we can’t go most places.”

  “Sorry,” Lawrence said, sounding honestly apologetic.

  “No problem.” Remington headed out the door, with Susan and John at his heels. “So long as we can get a glimpse of the nanorobot production, I don’t mind. That’s what Susan’s working on, and it has me fascinated.”

  “Knock yourselves out,” Lawrence said as the door shut behind them.

  They found themselves back out in the foyer with the secretary and the assortment of doors.

  “Nice people,” Susan said.

  “The best.” John looked around thoughtfully, apparently figuring where to start. “Why do you think I’ve stayed so long?”

  Amara piped up, “I thought it was my amazing coffee.”

  “Coffee?” John playacted exaggerated surprise. “You mean that stuff you give us in the morning is coffee? All these years, I thought it was motor oil.”

  It occurred to Susan that she had no idea how her father liked his coffee. She had never seen him drink any.

  “Very funny.” Amara returned to her work. “Next time, Dr. Calvin, you get a mug of gasoline. We’ll see if you can tell the difference.”

  John Calvin pointed to one of the doors. “The other offices are through there, including mine. I’ll take you there if we run out of places before Lawrence calls me back.” He opened one of the other doors and ushered them into a laboratory.

  Compared to Lawrence’s office, the room looked positively germfree. The white walls gleamed, without a trace of stain or dirt. Long lab benches held racks of empty test tubes, and the sinks appeared brand-new. Small refrigeration units with old-fashioned key locks perched on each end of every bench. Each one also held a high-powered microscopic chamber. Hovering over the benches, clear Plexiglas shields could be lowered to create a soundproof or sterile environment. Only the chairs lay in disarray, apparently left where the workers had abandoned them.

  “This is what you wanted to see, Remy.” John Calvin waved a hand to encompass the entire room. “The skeletal forms of the nanorobots are produced in the microchambers.” He led them to one of the boxes on the table. “You put your hands in here.” He indicated cut-out areas on the sides, now locked down tight. “And the view screen magnifies the project and tools so our roboticists don’t go blind.”

  Remington lowered his head until he looked directly into the screen. “How much magnification is there?”

  “I can look up an exact figure, if you want to know.” John Calvin hit a switch button on the back. Instantly, a brilliant light came on, demonstrating the contents: strange-looking pliers, guide wires, lasers, blades, screwdrivers, and even a tiny hammer. A sleek, pill-shaped body lay on a piece of cloth that looked like a chamois.

>   “Is that a nanorobot?” Remington asked, clearly awed.

  “That’s the shell of one, yes. And those are the tools we use.”

  Susan leaned in closer. “It looks so big.”

  “Magnification,” John Calvin explained. “Put your hands in.”

  “May I?” Remington said breathlessly.

  “Be my guest.”

  Remington looked at Susan, a stripe of red across his cheeks. “I’m sorry. Did you want to go first?”

  Susan felt no particular need to have her own hands in the contraption. “Be my guest.” She looked at her father. “Just promise me this isn’t some sick practical joke that’s going to mangle his surgeon hands.”

  John Calvin leaned in and unlocked the ports. He stepped back, gesturing at Remington.

  Susan rolled over a chair so Remington did not have to crouch.

  Without taking his attention from the magnification box, Remington settled his bottom on the chair and gently glided each hand into a side of the box.

  They appeared instantly, wrapped in an opaque film. They looked enormous, as if he could grip the entire room.

  “Whoa,” Susan said.

  “Whoa,” Remington and John agreed.

  Remington tentatively touched one of the tools with his finger. “That’s amazing. I didn’t think glass this big could be ground that finely.”

  “It can’t.” John wore the expression of one accustomed to the impossible. “The glass is maximally magnified. Then we use an active system to multiply it another thousandfold.”

  Remington removed his hands and sat back. “I’m impressed.” He rose and stepped aside. “Want to try it, Susan?”

  Susan suspected, after a day of work, the nanorobot scientists walked around holding their arms spread far apart, afraid to knock over everything in their path with their gigantic hands. “No, thanks. I got the idea, and I’d just as soon not know if I have hair on my knuckles.”

  Remington reflexively examined his own hands. “What’s the greenish fluid in the nanorobot concoction?”

  “Normal saline.” It was an extremely familiar product, one Remington ran through IV lines daily and Susan had used in her medical rotations as well. It consisted of a sterile 0. 91 percent solution of sodium chloride in water, essentially the same composition as that of most bodily fluids. It was the safest solution known to man, one that could be injected or rinsed over any organ, vessel, or tissue in the body, even in relatively large amounts.

  Susan asked the obvious follow-up question. “So, what makes it green?”

  John relocked the magnification box and flipped off the switch. “As I understand it, it bleeds off the nanorobots’ shell. Some kind of anti-infective, antirejection slime.”

  “Slime, huh? That must be the medicotechnical terminology,” Susan said helpfully as her father reflexively restored every flap and detail of the magnifier box.

  Remington seemed fascinated with the tiniest detail of the operation. He glanced around the room with slow thoroughness, then focused on the refrigeration units on the ends of the lab benches. “Is that where you store the vials?”

  John Calvin followed Remington’s gaze. “Yup. They’re pretty basic units. You didn’t want to see the inside of the fridges, too?”

  “Please?”

  “Seriously?”

  “If you don’t mind.”

  With a shrug and a glance that suggested he thought the neurosurgery resident had gone insane, John unlocked one of the refrigeration units. He opened the door to reveal thick walls and insulation. A test-tube stand held five of the familiar green vials with reddish seals. They seemed out of place to Susan, like running into an old friend from home while on vacation.

  Remington leaned in so closely he blocked Susan’s view. He studied the vials for several moments, while Susan and her father exchanged looks that expressed confusion, surprise, and, perhaps, a hint of suspicion. Susan had to ask. “What are you doing, Remy?”

  Remington stiffened, as if awakening from a trance. “Sorry. It’s just all so amazing.”

  At that moment, an alarm blared through the room, so sudden and loud that Susan let out an involuntary squeak. She turned to John Calvin for explanation, but he seemed as uncomfortable as she did. Remington stood up straight.

  “Lock up, Susan,” John Calvin said, heading for the door.

  Susan reached to shut the refrigeration unit, but Remington caught her hand. “Wait,” he whispered, pausing until John Calvin had fully exited. Only then, he whipped something from his pocket and held it up against the test tubes. Susan recognized it as one of the empty vials from when he had helped her inject her last few patients, along with the torn-off seal.

  The alarm continued to shrill through the building, almost unbearable. She wanted to clap her hands over her ears and curl into a ball. Ventilator alarms made a similar noise, absolutely impossible to ignore, cuing medical staff to a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate attention.

  “See?” Remington said.

  “See what?” The words emerged more gruffly than Susan intended. Driven to find the source of the alarm, and fix it, she found concentration on anything else almost impossible.

  “Look closely. At the seals.”

  Susan forced herself to study the removed seal, comparing it to the ones on the fresh vials. Now that Remington had pointed it out, she could see the previous seal had more of an orange hue, while the ones in the fridge were definitively red. “Do you think it faded a bit?”

  Remington grimaced, then shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. It came off yesterday, and it’s been in my pocket since. Besides, you’ve seen the seals on the vials we’re using.”

  The alarm seemed to explode in Susan’s head, making original thought nearly impossible. “So … someone is tampering with them.” The significance of her own words escaped her momentarily.

  The alarm stopped abruptly, and realization smacked Susan so hard she nearly fell.

  Remington closed and locked the refrigerator unit. “Exactly. And it’s happening sometime after this step in the process.”

  The silence became nearly as overbearing as the alarm itself. Susan felt a shiver traverse her entire spine. “Let’s go find my dad.” She headed for the door, and Remington followed.

  They wound their way swiftly back to Lawrence Robertson’s office, where they found the door closed. Susan knocked politely before pushing it open. A screen blared the evening news. The same men they had met earlier, plus two more, leaned forward in their chairs, watching intently. At the back of the room, Susan’s father appeared to be the only one who noticed them, and he ushered them inside with a gesture. The pair stepped in and closed the door behind them.

  “Hell of a coincidence,” someone muttered.

  “But coincidence it must be,” Alfred Lanning said emphatically. “There’s no other explanation.”

  “What happened?” Susan whispered to her father.

  John Calvin squirmed, clearly loath to tell her. “Valerie Aldrich just blew herself up in the Federal Building.”

  Susan felt as if a vice clamped onto her chest. “Valerie Aldrich? Princess Valerie? I injected her myself.”

  “Yes.”

  The situation seemed to require more. “Dad, that’s the second person with circulating nanorobots who set off a bomb in Manhattan.”

  “Yes.”

  Susan made a wordless noise of frustration.

  Remington took over the questioning. “Was anyone hurt?”

  Lawrence Robertson shut off the news.

  “From what they’re saying, she ordered everyone to evacuate the room before detonation. Half the building went down, though, and some people got caught in the rubble. They’ve confirmed two deaths and a lot of injuries.”

  “We have to remember,” Alfred Lanning continued, “we’re working with the most psychotic patients in the city. Insanity is normal for them.”

  Susan blurted out, “But acting within the Three Laws of Robotics isn
t.”

  Every eye, every head whipped toward Susan. Remington shook his head and unobtrusively took her hand in a quiet plea for silence.

  But it was too late. Whatever damage he feared was already done.

  Lawrence Robertson spoke first. “What do you mean, Susan?”

  Susan had no idea why Remington wanted to silence her, but she had something to say and every intention of saying it. “Both of our bombers have had three things in common: They were injected with nanorobots, they somehow obtained functioning explosives, and they attempted to follow the Three Laws of Robotics.”

  An outburst of conversation followed Susan’s pronouncement.

  Lawrence Robertson raised a hand, restoring the quiet but not decreasing the intensity of the stares one iota. “How so? If they were operating under the Three Laws, they could not have injured anyone.”

  As Susan continued, Remington’s grip on her hand grew stronger to the point of pain. “I think they tried to avoid it, but they had limited judgment and insight into the power of the explosives they carried. In both cases, they ordered people out of the blast area first.” She gave Remington a questioning look and received a subtle cutting gesture at his throat. He wanted her to shut up.

  Alfred Lanning screwed his features into a perfect depiction of disgust. “That’s all very interesting, but entirely impossible. While it’s true the nanorobots do carry the Three Laws by virtue of having positronic properties, they don’t have the thinking capacity to contemplate and act on them. I think it’s far more likely the functioning consciences of these psychiatric patients caused them to act in an ethical manner that simulates the patented Three Laws of Robotics.”

 

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