I robot to protect book.., p.34

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 34


I, Robot: To Protect Book 1

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  Susan’s heart rate jumped a hundred beats. Sweat poured down her body. She suddenly understood what it felt like to suffer supraventricular tachycardia. “What do you mean” — her voice sounded strange, as if her throat had started to close off — “not there?” She tried to wet her mouth, with little success. “She has to be there. She’s on a locked ward, for Christ’s sake!”

  “She’s gone,” Kendall said, articulating the impossible. “Last night, she got hold of a key and eloped from the unit.”

  “No.” Instantly, images of Sharicka examining the locks filled Susan’s head. When she had taken Sharicka and Monterey to visit Nate, the girl had shown a fascination for the unit’s locks. Susan had worried that scrutiny would come back to haunt her. Now, she felt certain Sharicka had observed the disposition of the keys with the same fanatical intensity, from the moment of her arrival. The girl probably knew exactly which doctors and nurses carried them on every shift, in which pockets, and what diversion might gain her the opportunity to steal one. Susan wondered how long Sharicka had patiently waited to carry out the crime.

  They know what she’s capable of now. How could anyone be so stupid! Susan knew condemnation and finger-pointing were useless wastes of thought. Sharicka could not have used direct manipulation or trickery; no one had handed her that key. The key-carriers let people in and out of those doors a hundred or more times a day. They had no choice but to keep the key in a pocket. And, amid innumerable distractions, pockets could be picked. Nothing mattered except the terrible knowledge that Sharicka Anson was free.

  Susan could not think clearly enough to form coherent sentences. Young as she was, Sharicka was the most horrific danger Manhattan had faced since September 11, 2001. The Three Laws of Robotics were no match for a human being without morals, without a glimmer of conscience. The simple wisdom of a dog would serve them better. “No,” she said louder. “No, no, no!”

  Privy only to Susan’s side of the conversation, Remington turned in his seat to look directly at her. “Sharicka’s loose?”

  Kendall watched Susan’s reaction curiously. “She can’t cause that much damage, can she? I mean, she’s crazy, but she’s small, only four years old. It’s not like she can attack grown men or tear babies from their mothers’ arms.”

  Susan looked helplessly at Remington and nodded. Then she turned her attention back to Kendall. “Get yourself excused for the rest of the day. If you can, grab two milligrams of IM Haldol. Meet us at the hospital entrance in ten minutes.”

  “What …? How …?” was all Kendall managed before Susan broke the contact.

  Susan found herself wringing her hands and rocking like a stereotypical autistic child in the days before Arketamin. “She’s loose,” Susan confirmed. “Long enough to have armed herself and —” And what? What’s she going to do? Where’s she going to do it? The ten minutes it would take to reach Manhattan Hasbro seemed like an eternity.

  Remington turned Susan a curious look. “What do you want with the Haldol?”

  “Antipsychotic.” Susan could not believe she had to explain something so obvious to another doctor, even one unaccustomed to violent psychiatric emergencies. “We use it for rapid tranquilization.”

  “Susan, I know what Haldol’s for.” Remington kept his voice low to exclude eavesdroppers. “I just don’t see what good any chemical restraint will do ten to thirty minutes after she sets off the bomb.”

  Susan took a breath to reply, then realized Remington was right. The choice of medication did not matter: antipsychotic, neuroleptic, paralytic. It would take at least five minutes for anything to work its way into Sharicka’s system by the IM route, long enough for her to detonate any kind of explosive. Susan supposed an intravenous injection might work quickly enough, but the most competent anesthesiologist in the world could never get a needle into a vein under duress in an unwilling, unrestrained patient. “Inhalational anesthetic?”

  Remington’s brows rose. “Got any?”

  Susan had to admit she did not. “Who carries around sevoflurane?”

  “Exactly my point.”

  “But you’re a surgeon. Can’t you get some?” The moment the words came out of her mouth, Susan realized how irrational they sounded. It was not as if she, as a psychiatrist, could grab a handful of schedule two narcotics on demand.

  Remington gave a more straightforward answer than he needed to. Under the circumstances, Susan would have forgiven sarcasm. “Not without the time or authority to explain. Probably not with it. Even the anesthesiologists who work with the stuff can’t just carry a tank home in a backpack. It’s all locked up and monitored to the micromilliliter.”

  Apparently reading Susan’s consternation as disappointment, he added, “Not that it would help. I mean, how would we administer it? If we loosed it blindly, it would take all of us out, including innocent bystanders. I don’t think she’d stand still while we clamped a mask over her face. And how are we supposed to smuggle a tank, mask, and tubing through Manhattan without bringing every cop in the city down on our asses?”

  Before Susan could reply, her Vox buzzed. Her first thought, that Kendall had called back to demand details she would not relay on a crowded bus, was dispelled when she glanced at her wrist. It was Lawrence Robertson. She opened the connection.

  The head of U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men did not wait for her to speak. “Susan, Goldman and Peters report they’ve secured two patients.”

  Only two? Susan had expected them to haul down three from the adult psychiatric unit alone. “Who do they have?”

  “Fontaina and Bogart. Bogart was trying to sign himself out Against Medical Advice, but he had a court order.”

  Susan ran their faces and diagnoses through her memory. She knew Fontaina, the hospitalized catatonic who had barely moved when she had injected him. Bogart was the chronic depressive who had attempted suicide on multiple occasions, which would ensure he had an unbreakable, legal commitment. “What about Cary English?” She worried about him nearly as much as about Sharicka, with his history of paranoid delusions and violent behavior.

  “Gone,” Lawrence said. “He attacked three medical staff who tried to stop him and put a security guard into intensive care.” He shook his head. “He’s armed now, too.”

  Susan bit back a swear word. “There are —”

  “Oh shit!” Lawrence spat out the words Susan had suppressed. His face disappeared, replaced by moving flashes of walls and ceiling. The volume of a distant television grew louder, almost decipherable through the Vox connection.

  Susan could make out the expressionless droning of a newscaster. “What’s going on?” she demanded.

  Lawrence told her in breathless bursts as he tried to talk and listen simultaneously. “A couple of my guys snagged a man headed into the airport.” He paused. “Apparently, he had high-tech explosives on him.” Another pause, with muffled television words. “Name’s Balinsky. Barack Balinsky.”

  “Barack Balinsky?” Susan could scarcely believe it. “He’s a catatonic. Hasn’t moved a muscle voluntarily in sixteen years.”

  “Apparently, he was spry enough — Uh-oh!” Lawrence Robertson fell suddenly silent. His face remained on Susan’s Vox screen, staring rigidly at something in front of him.

  Susan waited patiently.

  “They’ve made a connection, Susan. They’ve just announced that all three were mental patients with serious psychoses.” He breathed out a long sigh. “That appears to be everything they’ve pieced together so far.”

  Susan could scarcely believe it. “Don’t you think it’s time to bring in the police?”

  Lawrence Robertson put his head in his free hand and groaned. “Susan, the Society for Humanity, the SFH, is definitely involved. They’ve dedicated themselves to ending all robotic research and exploration, as well as several current and future medical techniques that have the potential to save and improve millions of lives. They don’t just want to shut us down; they want to set science, medicine, space explor
ation, assistive devices, back to the 1900s.”

  Susan shook her head at what seemed like hyperbole. “That can’t happen. Once a thing is out there, working, it’s almost impossible to retract.”

  “Oh, is it?” Lawrence shook his head at what he clearly considered Susan’s foolish naïveté. “Take a look at the abortion issue. In 1973, a woman’s right to choose became the federal law of the land. Whether or not you agree with that decision, you have to admit it took half a century of all-out war for it to take effect, thanks to bureaucratic red tape, financial and physical blockages of facilities providing abortion services, parental consent laws, mandatory waiting periods, outlawing of selective procedures, intimidation and murder of abortion providers, and federal restrictions on funding.

  “The government has already cracked down hard on robotics construction and research in ways you can’t imagine. You already know we’re the only company legally allowed to even involve ourselves in true artificial intelligence construction. But did you also know that it’s illegal for positronic robots to be sold anywhere on planet Earth without explicit written permission from the federal government?”

  Susan almost laughed at the wording. Did they expect Martians and Venusians to put in their orders?

  “If positronic robots are tied, in any way, to these acts of terrorism, the SFH knows the technology itself, and everyone involved with it, will be blamed. USR, and its robots, will be put on trial, and the true killers, murderers who will stop at nothing to destroy us, will go free. We’ll bring in law enforcement, Susan. I promise. But not until we have evidence to convict the true culprits.”

  Susan grimaced. She had asked the question because she worried USR had gotten in over its head, not because she intended to betray them. “I promise to let you decide when the right time is. I just want you to understand one thing: There are still two walking bombs in Manhattan, and neither of them has shown any compunction about committing murder, even before the reprogramming.”

  Lawrence’s features pinched. “You mean … the four-year-old girl is …” He let Susan finish.

  “The worst of the bunch, sir. The worst of the bunch.”

  And that was when Susan fully realized that nothing but three doctors, two psychiatry research scientists, and one tiny corporation stood between hundreds of Americans and their annihilation.

  Susan guided Kendall away from the omnipresent protestors in front of Manhattan Hasbro Hospital to a secluded garden, where topiary in the shape of a Kuddly Kitten lorded over a landscape of flowers spelling out each letter of the Hasbro name. She thrust the portable radiation detector into his hands and demonstrated the proper setting. “So, we’re looking for Sharicka and this man.” She showed him a tiny image of Cary English on Vox display. “You’ll know for sure because this” — she tapped the setting — “is set specifically for the nanorobot tags. It’s not going to pick up someone’s cancer-treating implant.”

  “Or a nuclear bomb, I presume.”

  Susan stared at him. “If someone with a nuclear device also happens to be running around plotting a homicide bombing, we’re all screwed anyway.” Panic settled over her momentarily, and she had to remind herself that, even if the SFH had leagued with international terrorists, they still had to get past the worldwide locks and regulations against illegal weapons.

  Kendall looked over the device doubtfully. “And if I find one of them, is this going to help me catch him?”

  “No,” Susan admitted, unsure exactly what to do herself. “This will just locate the tags. After that, we’re on our own.”


  “You and Remy and I are not the only ones looking, if that’s what you mean.” She pulled out a list Lawrence Robertson had put together. “These are the places someone looking for publicity might target. They’ve already gone after USR, a government office, and an airport. We’re thinking maybe a large, historical building next.”

  Kendall snapped his fingers. “Chrysler Building. It’s not the tallest, but it’s relatively close to the hospital. And it’s currently ranked number three in the country as a must-see and number one in Manhattan.”

  Susan wondered why he had those statistics at his fingertips. “Good choice,” she said, but it all seemed so futile, like looking for two lethal needles in a haystack the size of … Manhattan. “I’ll meet up with Remy; he has the other portable. Keep in touch.”

  Kendall turned to leave, then stopped. “Where is Remy?”

  “He said he needed to pick up a few necessities. Didn’t specify. We’re meeting up halfway between here and his place.”

  “Ah, so you know the location of his place.”

  Susan did not want to bandy jokes now. “Stop leering. He told me. I haven’t actually been there.” She could not help adding, “Yet.” An image of their conversation on the bench slithered into her mind accompanied by a surge of rewarmed emotion. Though only hours earlier, it seemed more like weeks since they had had their talk and she had made the decision to relinquish her virginity to a man she had already come to love. Once this is over, once we’ve saved Manhattan, nothing in the world is going to keep me away from him.

  Susan appreciated Kendall had no way of knowing her thoughts. He studied the device she had given him. “How useful is this thing, anyway? I mean, you can block alpha radiation with a sheet of paper and beta with aluminum foil. Is whatever’s emitted by these things able to penetrate the human skull, let alone give off enough particles for me to find someone in a crowd?”

  Although she probably had enough science background to understand the details, Susan had not taken the time to elicit them. “I didn’t build the thing, Kendall. As best as I understand it, the radiation tags are nonionizing and biologically safe. Don’t ask me to get into the molecular structure. I’ve always preferred biological sciences to chemistry and physics, and I honestly didn’t ask.” Worried for wasting even a second, Susan abbreviated the discussion. “Suffice it to say these are not your father’s basic Geiger counters. They’re incredibly complex machines that, when properly set and programmed, lock onto even minute amounts of a specialized radioactive tag, ignoring cosmic radiation, background radiation, microwaves, and whatever we transmit using Vox worldwide.”

  Kendall stared. “Thanks for the class, Calvin. What I really want to know is about how close do I need to get to Target A or B for it to start beeping … or whatever it does to get my attention?”

  “Oh.” Susan realized Kendall only wanted the exact same information the tech at USR had given them. “They’re supposed to be exquisitely sensitive. So long as there’re not a lot of obstacles, you can get a hint of vibration at about a hundred yards or so.”

  “Thanks.” Kendall sounded almost giddy with relief. “That’s actually doable.” He started to turn, then whirled back. “Sorry, Susan. I couldn’t get the Haldol. I needed a better explanation than ‘I think it has something to do with Sharicka.’”

  Susan winced. Given Remington’s explanation, she doubted it would have done them any good, but she felt bad about putting Kendall in such an awkward situation. He had probably had nearly as much trouble getting himself off the unit. “It’s all right. Just go.”

  Kendall headed off at once, his tread more stolid and serious than Susan had ever seen it.

  Buoyed by Kendall’s trust and optimism, Susan set off to find Remington.

  The tram glided to a stop at Forty-second Street and Third Avenue, a block and a half east of the Chrysler Building. Kendall Stevens’ gaze fixed on the massive, stainless-steel structure that seemed less to scrape the sky and more to directly pierce it. A seventy-seven-story rocket ship, it towered over the surrounding structures. It was an architectural masterpiece, slender and elegant, its proportions so much more eye pleasing than the lumpish Bank of America Tower or even the blockier Empire State Building. Its stainless-steel siding reflected light all around it, as if to share its tremendous glory with every one of its neighbors. His gaze fixed on it, Kendall headed down Forty
-second Street.

  Ahead of him, a glide-bus pulled up at a station that still held the historical marker of Grand Central Terminal. Due to multiple attacks, security concerns, and major changes in New York’s transportation systems, all that clearly remained of the once-largest train station in the world was a massive clock, the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass. The people flowing from the bus’ doors filled the gamut, and nearly all of them stared at the skyscraper as they emerged. Several tripped onto the curb, and one nearly walked into a sidewalk tree.

  Suddenly, the device in Kendall’s pocket went crazy, buzzing against his right thigh with a fervor usually reserved for electrocution. Startled, he bit his lips to keep from shouting and hauled the device free, where it shook with such fury his arms vibrated with it. What the hell? Kendall glanced wildly around him. His heart slammed against his ribs like a jackhammer.

  Cary English had just stepped off the bus, looking precisely like the picture Susan had showed Kendall. He had a wild tangle of salt-and-pepper hair, several days’ growth of beard, and blue eyes that flitted upward and sideways in random, nervous movements. A large man with enormous hands, he stood at least half a foot taller than Kendall’s five feet eleven inches and outweighed him by some eighty pounds. He wore an overlarge jacket over his greasy jeans, big enough to hide any number of explosives.

  Shit! Kendall’s usual defense mechanism, humor, failed him now. He stood for a moment, trying not to stare. The schizophrenic’s gaze caught him, measured him, then dismissed him to focus on something or someone else. Now or never. Knowing better than to give the situation enough thought to keep him from doing something stupid, Kendall launched himself at Cary English.

  As he flew through the air, Kendall’s whole life flashed before his eyes. He relived an awkward childhood raised by a domineering single mother, school years filled with inexplicable desire and lonely uncertainty sublimated with jokes and clowning, college camaraderie and focused studying, then medical school, where he finally found his niche. Then, he crashed against Cary English with bruising force, and both men tumbled to the sidewalk.

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