I robot to protect book.., p.33

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 33


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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“Except,” Susan said, “that it’s too far-fetched a coincidence to believe that, in a city of fifteen million, two of the seven patients injected with nanorobots, neither of whom had ever shown a violent propensity nor had any knowledge of explosives, independently decided to blow up prime Manhattan targets.”

  A handsome, fine-boned man of mixed race piped up next. “Are you saying the nanorobots caused these people to act this way?”

  “Impossible,” Alfred snapped. “I programmed those nanos myself. There’s absolutely nothing in them that could induce someone to act in any fashion.” He added emphatically, “Nothing!”

  Remington released Susan. “Unless, Dr. Lanning, someone tampered with them.”

  The room fell into an even deeper silence than before, if possible. Susan suddenly understood why Remington had wanted to keep her from talking. He suspected someone at U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men, perhaps someone in the room, was a saboteur.

  Apparently, Lawrence Robertson made the same connection. He addressed Remington directly. “With the exception of you, young stranger, I trust every person in this room not only with my business, but with my life itself. Not one has worked with me fewer than fifteen years, and all of them have invested a life work into this company. As to you, Remy, I’m assuming you don’t have the knowledge to program nanorobots, and I know you haven’t had the opportunity.”

  “No, sir.” Remington rolled his eyes at the bare thought. “But I do have reason to believe this tampering is occurring, and not necessarily at your facility.” He approached Lawrence Robertson with a hand in his pocket, pulled out the vial and seal, and placed them on the desk. “I compared the seals to the ones on the vials in your laboratory. They’re not the same.”

  Alfred Lanning scooped it up before anyone else could take a closer look. “Where did you get this?”

  “From one of the vials Susan injected into a patient.”

  Susan appreciated he did not mention he had taken over for her on two occasions. It might make her appear incompetent.

  The scientist tossed the objects back onto the desk. “He’s right. That seal is definitely more orange in color and not quite as thick as the ones we use.” He shrugged a single shoulder. “Someone is tampering with our work.” His eyes widened at the implications of his own words. “Someone sabotaged our nanorobots!”

  A pallor seemed to overtake the room. Every face, the air in the room itself, seemed to grow white with strain. Susan watched them all carefully. She could read a lot from faces, from fidgeting, from words and movement. Everyone seemed genuinely shocked and dismayed. If a traitor stood among them, he was well trained at guarding his thoughts and emotions.

  Lawrence Robertson took over immediately. “Javonte and George, start looking into whoever touches those vials once they leave the refrigerators: lower-level employees, delivery men, shipping companies. No one outside this room is above suspicion.”

  The handsome black man and the gangly roboticist rushed to obey. “Alfred, get Goldman and Peters up on the secure speaker. Susan —” Apparently suddenly realizing he was commanding someone not in his employ, he softened his tone. “Based on what you’ve seen so far, and your knowledge of the study patients, what can we expect?”

  Susan had focused so intently on her theory about the Three Laws, she had not taken her ideas on the matter much further. Now, she thought aloud. “Since the nanorobots don’t have the capacity to mull the Three Laws the way a full positronic brain does, we have to assume the patient’s ethical considerations play a role here, filling in what the nanorobots can’t.” The idea was so stunning, Susan had to stop herself. The protestor, the one who had tried to talk her out of helping with the project, had a point. If she was right, they had created an odd and primitive form of cyborg, robot function interacting seamlessly with human thought and emotion. Except we can hardly consider it seamless under the current circumstances.

  No one spoke, not even Alfred Lanning, who looked as if he had just rushed headlong into a train.

  Susan had to continue, resorting to an exterior stony coldness to explain something shocking the instant it came to her mind, yet make it appear as if she had given it her full attention for an appropriate period of time to make it a viable theory. “The way I figure it, someone programmed the nanorobots to overtake the brains of their human hosts, each programmed to blow up a different target. But whoever did the programming either didn’t know about, or didn’t understand the overwhelming significance of, the Three Laws of Robotics.”

  To Susan’s surprise, the silence persisted. Every man in the room kept staring directly at her, their expressions anticipatory, to a man. She wondered what more they expected. She felt as if she had thrown out more than enough ideas to contemplate for hours.

  Remington gave her hand another squeeze, this one less insistent, more encouraging. “Susan, in your psychiatric opinion, will the Three Laws of Robotics hold? Can we be certain the other patients will also follow them when performing their … um … their, um …?”

  Susan did not wait for Remington to find the right word to describe the programmed missions of the saboteurs. Susan opened her mouth to answer, but the words did not come. She had no precedent on which to base her answer. She needed to think. “At this point, shouldn’t we call the police with our suspicions? We need to prevent anything else terrible from happening.”

  Finally, murmurs swept the room, punctuated by Lawrence Robertson’s loud sigh. He rose from his chair, walked around his desk, and came to Susan’s side. He glanced at John Calvin before turning his attention fully to the daughter. “Susan, I’m not sure if I can explain this properly, but it’s important I try.” Again, he looked at John, as if trying to elicit help. “We can’t go to the police.”

  Susan made no objections, wanting to hear him out first, but Lawrence raised a hand as if she had.

  “Other than that, we will do everything in our power to prevent ‘anything else terrible from happening.’”

  Susan suppressed a horrific urge to laugh in his face. Other than call the police? What else is there?

  Not entirely ignorant of her thoughts, Lawrence answered the unspoken question. “I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true. If word gets out to the general public that the people causing these explosions had nanorobots injected into their brains, it would mean the end of U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men.”

  The words seemed irresponsible; yet Susan understood more from his eyes than from his explanation. The company was the life work of Lawrence Robertson, of Alfred Lanning, of John Calvin, of most of the men in this very room.

  Lawrence leaned in closer. “Susan, you’ve met N8-C, right?”

  Susan could not help smiling at the memory. “Nate, yes. Many times. He’s absolutely amazing, brilliant.”

  “Yes.” Lawrence glanced around the room, where so many men seemed to be holding their breath simultaneously. “And, if the population at large gets wind of this, Nate will be erased, along with all the other prototypes and working robots. Their positronic brains will be wiped out, the technology outlawed, robotics set back for at least another generation.” His eyes grew moist; the thought was clear agony.

  Susan bit her lips. She no longer thought of Nate as a robot, but as a living individual. The idea of allowing anyone to destroy him seemed as intolerable as killing her own father. “We don’t know that will happen.”

  She was distracted by shaking heads all around the room, but managed to continue. “We could explain the truth. Give people some credit; they’d understand.”

  The combined force of those shaking heads stole Susan’s concentration completely, especially when she realized her father’s and Remington’s were now among them. She considered all the things she knew, what Nate had told her about how few of the hospital staff felt comfortable using him, how many of the patients refused his assistance once they knew, how protestors demanded his immediate removal. “But we’re talking about sabotage and spies. About homicide bombings, for Christ
s sake. People have died, will die. Next time, it could be hundreds, thousands.”

  “Which is why we have to make sure there is no next time,” Lawrence Robertson said with slow clarity.

  As shocking as Susan’s own revelations had seemed, the words spoken to her now flabbergasted her, mostly because they came from the lips of people she had always considered good and decent, upright and moral human beings. Her mouth and tongue felt numb, paralyzed.

  John Calvin motioned for Lawrence to stand back, and he did so wordlessly. Susan’s father looked down into her face. “I know what you’re thinking, kitten. And, as smart as you are, you’re wrong.”

  Susan’s pale eyes flicked directly on his. They looked so like her own, the ones she saw in the mirror every day, and the sincerity deep within them seemed to penetrate her psyche. She did not know what she was thinking, so she found herself eager for her father’s theory.

  “U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men isn’t some greedy monster of a corporation panicking over its profits. We’re small, as you know, smaller than we ever should be. We deal with priceless concepts, with products that cost millions to build, yet ‘making money,’ at least in a significant sense, is a notion that hasn’t reached us and may not for another century.”

  Susan could scarcely call her father rich. They had both borrowed heavily to send her through college. The state covered medical school for all physicians. Had she had to make her own way, as in Bainbridge’s day, she would have drowned in her own debt. Most of the men currently involved in the company’s projects would never see the riches their hard work might eventually reap. They did it from a firm belief that, once accepted, robotics would make humans happier, healthier, and better.

  John seemed to be trying to read his daughter’s mind as he spoke, his scrutiny intense, his tone almost pleading. “People have imagined robots improving our lives since long before any of our births. The water clock was invented in 200 BC, for God’s sake; and Leonardo da Vinci made a moving armored robot in 1495. Animatronics are commonplace at theme parks and as children’s toys, and NASA has used robotic exploration and analysis units since at least the 1990s. General Motors had a functioning robotic arm on its assembly line in the 1960s. And that’s all assuming you don’t include computers in the robotics category. Yet, when it comes to an actual humanoid robot, one that can actually think and talk, one that has skin, muscles, and a functional skeleton, one that can actually pass for human, people panic.” The disgust in his voice became palpable. “The Frankenstein Complex.”

  Susan had never heard her father denigrate anyone. He treated everyone kindly and had something nice to say about even the ones Susan would not miss if they fell off the earth. Although they argued about some things, she could never fault his knowledge or logic. He could make her see the other side of issues that did not seem to have one, and his love for humanity was unimpeachable. About this issue, he clearly felt passionate.

  John cleared his throat. “Susan, the positronic brain will change the course of history. It’s the greatest invention since” — he paused to consider — “the greatest invention ever, in my opinion.”

  Behind him, Susan could see Lawrence Robertson and Alfred Lanning exchanging glances, their cheeks flushed by the enormity of John Calvin’s compliment.

  “It will change the world as nothing else has since the Internet or the cellular phone. Society will improve a millionfold. Our lives will become easier, better in every way. Medicine will take a grand leap into the future. The possibilities are mind-boggling: prosthetics, transplants, fixing neural pathways, the intricacies of perfect surgery, even psychiatry itself, once we explore the relationship between human neural pathways and the positronic brain. Thousands of lives saved, millions in time.” John Calvin’s eyes held a gleam Susan had never seen before. It combined raw excitement with hope and joy and honest, innocent wonder.

  Susan took a slow, deep breath. Her father had never steered her wrong. He had an uncanny memory, a keen mind, a gift for finding the best in everyone and everything. She understood the grandeur in his speech; yet she also saw why it might incite fear in some. What about the surgeons replaced by those robots who could perform those perfect surgeries? What about the mental status of those people fitted with wondrous, robotic prosthetics? Would a caste system develop: full humans versus cyborgs versus robots? Could fully sentient robots contemplate their superiority, their immortality, their precision, and program themselves to overcome the Three Laws of Robotics? She released the breath in a long sigh.

  “Believe me, Susan.” John Calvin had not finished. “I taught you to look at both sides of every issue, and I know you’re doing that now, doing it with great intelligence and fervor.” His gaze remained fully locked on her own. “Know this: I believe zealously in the Three Laws and in the process that governs their existence in each and every positronic brain. They cannot be removed or tampered with; the simple act of trying would utterly destroy the brain itself.”

  A shiver traversed Susan. She hated when people seemed to read her thoughts, even the father who knew her better than anyone else. “I think,” she finally managed to say, “the world would be a far, far better place if all of us had to adhere to the Three Laws of Robotics.” She knew they needed a definitive answer. “All right. No police.” It amazed Susan how, this day, the men of USR seemed to do everything concurrently. Once again, to a man, the entire room appeared relieved by her promise.

  Chapter 22

  Susan could not scrub an image of “Princess” Valerie Aldrich from her mind. Seated beside Remington on the cross town bus, Susan found her mind’s eye filled with images of the elderly woman in the purple silk pants and cape, the tawdry tiara perched on perfectly coiffed white hair. Susan could still picture the put-upon husband, remembered only as a butler in the mind of his beloved after fifty-four blissful years of marriage. He had come to them with great desperation and hope that the nanorobots might rescue her from the fixed delusion spoiling their well-deserved happily-ever-after. If the nanorobots did their job, and Susan believed they would have, they could have salvaged the kind of rare and perfect love rarely seen anymore. Susan knew few enough marriages that had weathered two decades, let alone longer than half a century.

  “Damn it!” Sorrow and impotent rage seized her. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”

  Remington put his arm around her, drawing her closer.

  “She deserved better, Remy. They both deserved better.”

  Remington’s emerald eyes held Susan’s gamely. “Which ‘she’ do you mean, Susan?”

  “Valerie Aldrich and her husband,” Susan said, then realized how ridiculous she sounded. “Well, I guess they all did. The victims of the explosion, and Payton Flowers, too. Not many people deserve to die.” Susan huffed out a breath. “But she shouldn’t have to leave this world as That Looney in the Princess Costume Who Blew up a Government Office.”

  “No,” Remington admitted. He flipped his portable radiation detector over and over in his hands.

  “They were married fifty-four years. Fifty-four years.”

  “Yes,” Remington said unhelpfully, still playing with the object in his lap.

  The true lunatics, Susan realized, were the ones who had reprogrammed the nanorobots, the ones willing to murder and defame. For what? She remembered Nate’s definition of the Society for Humanity, verbatim to her surprise: “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.” Can anyone who claims to “rescue mankind,” can any group that calls itself the Society for Humanity, really be responsible for so much death and destruction? Susan realized that without the Three Laws of Robotics, the devastation would have been a lot worse. She patted her pocket to assure herself she had not lost her own portable radiation detector.

  Susan raised her Vox. Lawrence Robertson had demonstrated his leadership well enough by
delegating responsibilities with the confidence of a general. As Susan and Remington rode toward Manhattan Hasbro, members of the USR team, including her father, had already traced the switch to the shipping company and were penetrating it, rooting out the perpetrators, and gathering the necessary evidence. Ari Goldman and Cody Peters were taking charge of the care of those patients still presumably at Hasbro on the psychiatric ward: Neal Fontaina, the catatonic schizophrenic in permanent residence; Ronnie Bogart, the middle-aged bipolar with chronic depression; and Cary English, the violent, aging paranoid schizophrenic known to be assaultive to staff and dangerous even without reprogrammed nanorobots in his brain.

  It relieved Susan to know Sharicka Anson was also safely locked away on the Pediatric Inpatient Psychiatry Unit. And, surely, Barack Balinsky, the other catatonic, remained firmly ensconced on his mother’s couch. That accounted for every patient, other than the two who had already blown themselves to bits. It should not take long to round those last five patients up, remove the nanorobots, and return them to their proper places. She and Remington would not need the portable devices they carried, except, perhaps, to make absolutely certain they had removed every single nanorobot from the patients’ CSF.

  Yet, despite the apparent ease of their part of the operation, Susan felt as if she had ridden roller coasters all day. Her stomach roiled, and her mind, once released from images of Valerie Aldrich, flit dizzily and without pattern. Unable to wait a moment longer, she tapped up Kendall Stevens’ Vox.

  The Vox buzzed twice before his image appeared, his ginger hair tousled and his dark eyes tired. “Ah, Susan. So you’ve heard.”

  Instantly, Susan’s head began an incessant, internal buzzing as unignorable as the alarm at USR. “Heard what?”

  A light flashed through Kendall’s sleepy eyes. “Why did you call me?”

  “I wanted to check on Sharicka. Wanted to make sure …”

  As Susan spoke, Kendall’s large-lipped face seemed to wilt before her eyes. “That’s what I’m talking about, Susan. Sharicka’s not here.”

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