I robot to protect book.., p.36

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 36

 

I, Robot: To Protect Book 1
 



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  But, fully focused on wrestling Remington, the guards paid Sharicka no heed. She could see Remington fumbling for his gun, the guard pinioning his hand. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw the second security guard pull his own weapon and swing it toward Remington.

  “The girl!” Susan shrieked, clinging frantically to the sweater. “The girl has the bomb!” The fabric tore in Susan’s grip. Abruptly released, Sharicka staggered wildly forward, tripped, and skidded across the floor. Her hand swung toward the button again, and Susan saw no possible way to stop her. Another scream ripped from her throat, this one without intention or direction.

  Remington shouted, “Run, Susan!” Clearly fueled by adrenaline, he landed a desperate blow to the side of the guard’s head that finally gained him his freedom. He flew toward Sharicka. Susan dove for the other guard, frantic to reach him before he pulled the trigger. She crashed into the man so hard, it rattled every tooth in her head. The blast of the gun deafened her left ear. Pain shocked through every part of her. For an instant, she thought he had shot her; then she realized it all stemmed from the force of the impact. The man toppled, and she tumbled over him, sprawling into the exit.

  “Run!” Remington managed again.

  Susan turned her wild momentum into long-strided running steps, charging out the exit. The pavement whirled in front of her, open. Everyone else had a head start, using it to take as many steps as possible away from Sharicka Anson. She listened for Remington’s footsteps; and, when she didn’t hear them, she dared to glance backward as she ran.

  The guard Remington had struck lay still on the floor. The other was scrambling to his feet. Remington had wrapped himself around Sharicka, covering her like a carpet, using his own body to shield them all from the terrible might of the coming explosion.

  “No!” Susan shouted again. She tried to turn, tripped, and sprawled, rolling across the concrete. She could feel the skin sloughing off her hands, the fabric of her pants abrading from her knees. Then, suddenly, a roar reverberated through her head. A wall of heat slammed her against the building with bruising force, and she could feel small, hard objects raining down around her. Fire washed over her. It felt as if it burned every part of her, through her clothing and skin, into her internal organs. The taste of gasoline filled her mouth like physical pain. Then, cold air gripped her, quenching the fire. She raised her head, bashing it against brick. Pain shot through her skull; then black oblivion descended upon her.

  Susan Calvin awakened to the familiar sounds of a hospital room: the steady beep of a monitored bed, the rumble of the central air system, and the muffled sounds of distant conversation. She sat up too quickly. Dizziness swam down on her, and the room disappeared in a swirl of tiny black and white spots. She sank back to what she now recognized as a bed. Her vision gradually returned, first as a fine blur, then as distinct shapes. A screen traced her heart rate, breathing, and oxygenation. Someone tall slumped in a chair in a far corner of the room, his head clamped firmly between his hands.

  “Dad?” Susan guessed, sitting up more carefully. “Is that you?”

  The figure in the chair straightened. It was indeed John Calvin who rose to his full six feet eight inches and hurried to Susan’s bedside. “You’re awake.”

  “Only just,” she admitted, pulling her hands from under the covers. They felt enormous and awkward, and she realized they were swathed in bandages. “How long have I been asleep?”

  “Two days, in and out. We’ve had this conversation before. Don’t you remember?” He tapped a button on his Vox.

  Susan shook her head. I don’t remember anything after —” Terror shot through her. “Remy?” She gave her father a desperate, hopeful look.

  John Calvin shook his head with slow and weary sadness. He had that same, broken stance he assumed whenever the topic of Susan’s mother arose. “He died a hero. If he hadn’t thrown himself over the bomb, you certainly would have been killed. And, probably, several more innocents.”

  Susan felt as if the air had suddenly been sucked from the room. Instantly, tears filled her eyes, splashing down her cheeks, and sobs racked her mercilessly. She could not breathe, wasn’t sure she wanted to ever again.

  Gingerly, John wrapped his arms around his daughter.

  Susan barely noticed. She felt cocooned in the depths of unbearable grief, an emotion that seemed destined to overwhelm her for eternity. No longer hearing the steady blips of the monitor, she was certain her heart had solidified into an unreachable boulder.

  They remained enfolded together for what seemed like hours, until Susan’s eyes felt on fire and her muscles became exhausted from the spasms. Lost and hopeless, she lay still in her father’s strong arms and dared not contemplate the future.

  John seemed to sense when she could hear him again. Either that, or she had simply missed everything he had said until that moment. “Susan, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. The idea was to shield you and Remy from danger, to place the burden on the corporation.”

  The words seemed nonsensical to Susan, but she found herself unable to voice any opinion. Her throat felt raw with sorrow.

  “When you suggested a smallish mall far from the downtown area, Lawrence deliberately sent you there to keep you busy and out of harm’s way. None of us believed she would go there. We were sure the programming would send her to a larger, more newsworthy target.”

  Susan could only nod. The employees of USR had relied on logic and science. She alone had believed in the power of the psyche of a tiny sociopath; this time, she had not underestimated Sharicka Anson. Lawrence had done a stellar job convincing Susan he trusted her idea. She supposed the fact that he should have done so made the task simpler.

  “I’m sorry, Susan.” John’s voice hoarsened. “I’m so very, very sorry.”

  Now, it was Susan’s turn to comfort her father. She did not blame him for Remington’s death. To fault anyone else was to belittle his sacrifice, to lessen the courage it had taken for him to forfeit his life to save so many others. “Dad, I’m not religious enough to believe everything happens for a reason, but I am scientific enough to know things that have happened cannot be undone.” She remembered Remington’s words at USR, the ones he used to soothe her while she blamed herself for Misty Anson’s death. “Life is full of hard choices. When they’re made intelligently and with all the best intentions, we must accept the results, whether or not they’re what we expect, what we want, or something entirely different.”

  “But I feel responsible for Remy’s death, for your suffering. If I hadn’t convinced you not to call —”

  Susan did not allow him to finish. “People still would have died, many more of them. I don’t believe law enforcement could have acted any quicker than we did, and no one would have thought of going to Knickerbocker Mall. With the pressure off me and on the police, I know I wouldn’t have. You’d probably be in jail, along with several other blameless scientists, and robotic technology would have been set back fifty years, a century, maybe indefinitely.” Susan’s words reached home, as comforting to her as to her father. “Nate would have been erased, and hundreds of people at the mall would have died needlessly instead of …” She paused. “What was the actual death count?”

  “Three,” John said. “Remy, a security guard, and the girl. A dozen in the hospital, but no one worse off than you.”

  Her father’s words struck a note of terror that Susan would not have believed possible. If she still worried for her life and her future, then she would survive her grief, would find some way to limp through the rest of her life without the man she had come to love so absolutely, so quickly. “Dad, am I going to be okay?”

  John Calvin managed an actual smile. “You’re going to be just fine, kitten. Your hands are expected to heal fully. You have minor burns and bruises only. Nothing life threatening. They’re already talking discharge.”

  Thanks to Remy. Pain seared Susan’s heart. If she had believed in a higher power, her faith would have died in t
hat moment. No superior being worth worshiping would bring a man like Remington Hawthorn into her life, only to place him in a situation where he had to die to save her. If he hadn’t done what he did, we would both be dead. “And the people responsible? The ones who reprogrammed the nanorobots? Has anyone caught them?”

  John Calvin turned Susan a wan smile, betrayed by the deep sigh he heaved at the same time. “We’re still sorting it all out, but we’re hopeful. The SFH has always been dangerous. Now, they’ve apparently managed to recruit accomplished scientists and experienced international terrorists. The men who made the physical switch worked for the delivery company. At least, they’re in custody, and we hope they’ll give up the others. Making the connection between them and the Society for Humanity will probably prove a lot more difficult.”

  Susan nodded grimly.

  “We won’t give up, though,” John promised.

  Nor will they. Susan guessed the Society for Humanity would have all the tenacity of most extremists. No matter how worthy the cause, those people who took it to irrational lengths always ruined it for the true and sanely passionate believers. Such were antiabortion extremists who murdered doctors and misrepresented beloved stillborn infants as aborted embryos; environmental extremists who slaughtered scientists, blew up corporations, and stole credit cards to finance their radical agendas; extremists on both sides of the political aisle who threatened federal buildings and workers, vandalized property, and fomented lies when elections did not go their way; radical Islamists who daily fired rockets into Israel, demonized civilization, demoralized women, and declared war on every religion not their own.

  The Society for Humanity would not give up the fight until certain branches of science disappeared from existence. Individual victories would never suffice. They would not rest until the things of which they disapproved wholly perished from the earth, and they did not care whom they damaged, whom they murdered, to achieve that goal.

  History had proven only one way to handle terrorists, Susan believed, and that was to defeat them. In the past, when one side wanted only peace and the other would settle for nothing less than total annihilation of the other, the side wishing for peace was the one that had to survive, the one that deserved to triumph. When extremists won, they did not quietly disappear; they did not embrace peace. They simply turned their might onto a new target. First, kill all the Israelis. Then, kill all the Jews. Then, kill all the gays, the Christians, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the gypsies and, eventually, even the gentler practitioners of their own religion. This was not a matter of dueling philosophies; to the Society for Humanity, this was all-out war.

  Gradually, Susan became aware of more presences waiting patiently at the open door to her room. She glanced past her father to see Kendall Stevens standing at the entryway, the bare hint of a smile creeping onto his battered face despite two black eyes and multiple bruises. Beside him stood a middle-aged man Susan did not recognize.

  Releasing Susan, John Calvin also turned to see the newcomers. “Ah, there you are. Did you get my signal?” He tipped his head toward the Vox on his wrist, and Susan remembered he had tapped a button when he first came to her bedside.

  “I did.” Kendall stepped fully into the room, gesturing for the other man to follow him.

  Susan sat up in her bed. She knew she must look a fright. Besides having survived an explosion, she had spent what seemed like a lifetime crying. Her eyes felt swollen and sore. “Hi, Kendall. Hi …” She paused. Now that he stood closer, the man at Kendall’s side did look familiar. “I’m sorry. I’m still a bit muddled. I can’t remember your name.”

  “Ronnie,” the man inserted in a cheerful voice. “Ronnie Bogart.”

  The name cued an image of his back, his body curled into a fetal position. Susan had injected Ronnie Bogart with nanorobots, but he little resembled the pitiful man who had come to her in desperation after seventeen suicide attempts. He seemed to have grown several inches, and he projected an aura of confidence wholly lacking the first time she had met him. His hair was still thinning, but now it was neatly combed and tended. “Ronnie Bogart?” Susan repeated incredulously. “You … you …” She did not know how to say it without sounding offensive. “You look wonderful!”

  “I feel wonderful,” Ronnie said, sounding wonderful. “After the docs analyzed the data from the nanorobots, they found an unusual chemical imbalance. I started on my new meds, and voilà!”

  Susan could not help laughing. She turned her father a look that she hoped said, The nanorobots still collected useful data despite the reprogramming.

  John Calvin pursed his lips and nodded.

  Ronnie continued. “And you know that fellow, Fontaina? The one always on the unit whenever I got admitted? I used to sit and talk to him for hours, like I would a dog. I mean, he never spoke, never moved. Great sounding board, right?”

  Susan wanted to rush him to the punch line. “Don’t tell me he’s walking around.”

  “Not yet,” Ronnie admitted, “but he’s sitting up and looking at people.”

  “The issues the nanorobots found are a bit more complicated,” Kendall explained, clearly trying to maintain whatever confidentiality remained to Neal Fontaina. “And it’s only been a couple of days.”

  “I can’t remember the last time I had this much energy.” Ronnie scooted back into a normal position. “I can’t remember if I ever before felt … happy.”

  “Congratulations,” Susan said. The nanorobots might just turn out to be the miracle treatment they had hoped for, at least for some refractory patients. She tried not to wonder if they might have helped Sharicka or if the Ansons were celebrating or mourning the loss of this particular child. Knowing them, she suspected they cried as hard as for her as Susan did for Remington. They truly had loved her, even after mental illness had turned their special child into something horrific and monstrous.

  The conversations seemed to have come to a natural conclusion. Kendall scuffed his feet. “So, when do you think you’ll be back at work?”

  Susan looked at her father.

  “The doctors say her wounds will heal in a couple of weeks.” John Calvin made no real attempt to answer the question. They all knew shock and grief had more to do with her return than physical injuries.

  “Sooner than later,” Susan promised. She was not the type to wallow in sadness. She harbored no illusions she would handle the loss of Remington any better than her father had her mother’s death. He had gone back to work, though, remained competent at it, resumed a mostly normal life with just a few quirks to prove he had become a different man. She suspected she would prefer leaping back into her residency rather than filling her days with nothing but thoughts of her loss and attempting to distract herself with inane movies and television shows. “I’ll be back in time for our next rotation.”

  Kendall bobbed his head. “Well, it’s not as if you left us a bunch of patients to clean up for you.” He brightened. “By the way, I’m discharging … the teenager you helped me break through to.” Confidentiality stopped him from speaking the name.

  “Oh yeah?” Susan knew he meant Connor Marchik. No happy ending existed for the teen with refractory liver cancer; but, at least, he could spend his final months with friends and family in an environment more pleasant than the PIPU.

  John Calvin took the hint. “You two look like you want to talk shop. Why don’t I walk Mr. Bogart back to the unit, if that’s okay with him?”

  “I’m fine with that,” Ronnie answered. “It’s only a matter of days till discharge.”

  As the other men left the room, Kendall’s smile faded. Even without the black eyes, the bruises, and abrasions, he would have looked more serious than she had ever seen him before. He paced the floor. Twice.

  Barely recognizing him, Susan tried to break the silence. “So, what is our next rotation? The Violent Care Unit?”

  Kendall resisted the joke, which surprised Susan in and of itself. “Outpatient psych,” he answered distractedly.
His smile returned, but it seemed forced. “You’re already scheduled to see some old friends.”

  “Diesel,” Susan guessed. “And Monterey. Maybe even Starling.”

  “Yup.”

  “And I imagine you’ll see Connor.”

  “Almost certainly.” Kendall dodged her stare.

  Susan could not stand it any longer. Clearly, he was not going to raise the issue that bothered him on his own. “What’s bugging you, Kendall? You look like a shark’s eating you from the feet up.”

  “Susan?” Kendall attempted to look at her; then his gaze flitted away. “When I was up on the roof. With the gun. I had a perfect shot at … her.”

  Susan blinked, trying to understand the implications of what Kendall had just revealed.

  “I could have prevented the explosion, Susan. Remy would still be alive.” Kendall’s eyes blurred behind pools of salt water. “No one would have gotten hurt. Not you. Not anyone.”

  Susan did not know how to feel. “Come here,” she commanded.

  As if in a trance, Kendall moved to her side. An uncharacteristic stiffness to his gait betrayed his own injuries, ones that ought to keep him out of residency, too, for at least a week or two.

  Susan caught him into an embrace. “It’s not your fault, Kendall.” She spoke the truth the instant it came to her mind. “I couldn’t have pulled the trigger, either.”

  “Remy could have. To save us. He —” Kendall choked on the words.

  Susan did not know how he had intended to finish, so she used her own words. “He was a rare type of person. A true hero.” It occurred to her the word was thrown about too casually, applied to inappropriate things. She had heard parents call their children heroes for winning a difficult race, had heard newscasters refer to random survivors of catastrophes as heroes, had heard hero bandied about the hospital to apply to patients who did nothing more than survive a dangerous procedure or let a dying loved one go. Surely, those things took courage and fortitude, but she wondered when hero had lost its meaning, when it had ceased to refer to someone who risked or sacrificed his own life to save the lives of others. Susan thought she had cried out all her tears, but new ones stung her eyes.

 
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