Prevention Force

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Chapter 13

The captain scratches her head in front of the enormous tree chart that shows all the lines of influence, people who affected Lu and people affected by Lu, 28,000 in all.

Healy says, “I can’t believe we didn’t detect it sooner. A whole lot of suffering could have been prevented.”

“It’s a big world. We can’t fix everything.” She presses the intercom. “Lieutenant Humphries, are you free?”

“If we don’t, who will?”

“The cat is out of the bag now.” She examines the diagram showing exponential spread of the contagion. “Thank goodness for robots.”

Lieutenant Humphries stands in the doorway. He declared flamboyantly, “I’m free!”

“Here’s a case of parental influence.”

“Aye aye, Captain.” He salutes, turns sharply, and marches out.

Healy goes to work on the statistical analysis.

The captain turns to Smoob, on the couch with head halfway in a jug. “And Smoob.”

She pulls out her honey-covered face.

“Why don’t you take this guy? The bully.”

“Will do.” Stands, licking herself, and departs.

An army of therapybots is unleashed into the city. Each T411 Robotic Therapy Unit holds an M.D. in emergency medicine, internal medicine, external medicine, and psychiatry. Each is a master of Gestalt therapy, rolfing, shiatsu massage, physical therapy, qigong, tai chi, and yoga. Each is armed with weapons of healing such as a stethoscope, tissues, and educational pamphlets.

Lt. Humphries walks down Hudson Ave, a busy street, with a lively, mechanical gait. His silver Titanium skin reflects like a mirror. You could shoot him all day, but it would be quite pointless. His only weakness is that he could run out of juice after a month, but this never happens with daily chargings.

The sidewalk is covered with gray, bumpy ice, hardened from people walking on it. Very treacherous. The poor neighborhoods don’t have ice melting sidewalks. People walk in the streets against traffic. The car people glare at them and take great offense. One must have an attitude of “Hey, I’m walking here!” to get through the day. Cleats projecting out the bottoms of Humphrie’s feet give him perfect traction. He passes a Free Box on the corner, where there are some cans of food and a couple of skateboards someone donated for the taking.

Small closely spaced houses. Many in disrepair. Some have fresh paint and attractive flower arrangements. Others, peeling paint and trash.

He turns into a dirt yard with a few sparse patches of grass. His cleats retract as he climbs the front step. The screen door has a big rip in it. The door behind it is ajar, covered by a large plaster patch where it was repaired but never painted. Humphries taps precisely with one finger. Metal on metal.

A man, 65, drinking beer and watching the footbasebaskety game, yells from his la-z-boy, “Yo!”

He speaks over the TV, “Good afternoon. My name is Lieutenant Humphries.” He scans the man’s face to confirm identity. “Are you Lee Beauregard Rivers?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I just told you.” His head jerks briefly to a tilt.

“What do you want?”

His human-like voice is always calm and free from psychological hangups. “Your son has been detained.”

The wife is in the kitchen cooking. She tosses spices into the mix as the cook-o-matic does most of the work. Its mechanisms chop vegetables, blend mixes, and stir fry pans. Fragrance fills the house.

The man converses without getting up. “What did that no good bum do this time?”

Humphries winces. “Hey, hey, hey! Watch the derogatory speech patterns. May I come in?”

“I can hear you fine from here.”

“Sir, I’m afraid your son was involved in a bank robbery.” His sensors scan the room for signs of psychopathology. Sociopathy--negative. Hoarding--negative. A wholesome picture of a young couple hangs on the wall. Facial recognition identifies them as Lu’s parents.

The man chuckles. “Bank robbery? That dummy really did it this time.”

“Sir, I am really going to have to ask you to stop referring to your son in a demeaning manner.”

“What business is that of yours?”

He cocks back his cap, and scratches his forehead. His movements are smooth and stop on a dime. “According to statute 1213B, parents must provide children with basic nurturing and education. Those unable to do so will be helped.”

“Don’t tell me how to raise my kids.”

“It is illegal to send an ignorant person out into the community.”

“Who are you calling ignorant?”

“No worries. We’ll train you.”

“What gives you the right to tell me what to do?”

“Your son robbed a bank.”

“He didn’t get it from me.”

“Records show you undermined your son’s sense of self-worth 13,046 times and his respect for authority 7,296 times.”

He finishes his beer and tosses the can. “Get me another beer!” His butlerbot marches over and hands him one from his refrigerated compartment. Picks up the discard with a claw, eats it, and compacts it.

Humphries plays the video of Lu in the cradle. The baby throws its rattle on the floor, and a much younger Mr. Rivers says, “Stupid kid.”

Old Mr. Rivers rolls his eyes. “Is it my fault he’s stupid?”

“Every time you call him stupid you create a self-fulfilling belief in his subconscious.”

He throws up his hands.

“Not to mention your genetic contribution.”

The next clip shows Lu crying and his mother comforting him. Beauregard yells, “Will this stupid kid ever shut up?”

“Please. We’re not going to watch every time I called that moron stupid are we?”

“I’m afraid so. It’s necessary for the reeducation.”

“I don’t have time for this.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll make the time.”

“Screw this.”

“The court has mandated you undergo psychotherapy until such time that you are safe to return to the community.”

“You have two seconds to get off my property before I get my gun.”

“That’s exactly the kind of behavior we’re trying to avoid.”

Beauregard rises and faces him through the screen. “Get off my porch.”

“This warrant authorizes me to detain you.”

The man walks into the back room.

Humphries waits.

He comes back with a shotgun and points it through the screen right at Humphries midsection.

“Sir, may I remind you that assaulting a police officer will make your situation significantly worse.”

He cocks the trigger. “I have every right to shoot you.”

“Speaking as an attorney, I can assure you that is not the case. And as a life coach I advise you that getting mad only makes things worse. This doesn’t need to be an unpleasant experience.”

His wife stands in the kitchen doorway. “Please, honey, calm down.”

“Be quiet, woman.”

Humphries notes the need for communication training.

She runs over in her slippers and grabs his shoulder. “Don’t do this.”

“I’m the man. I tell you what to do.”

“Sir, that remark is in violation of the Equal Rights Amendment.”

His body shakes. “Do you know how close I am to pulling this trigger?”

“27% probability. If you do, I will arrest you.”

He knows robots are bulletproof, grunts in frustration, and lowers the weapon.

The wife holds his arm. “I don’t want to lose you.”

He pushes her away. She falls against the wall, taking the family photo down with her to the floor. He raises his fists to strike her.

Faster than the human eye can see, Humphries’ arm busts through the screen branches into two arms, grabs and immobilizes both wrists. “No hitting.”

“You son of a bit--”

A third hand comes out and puts a finger over his lips. “You have a right to remain silent.”

He struggles to break free.

“You are under arrest for domestic violence.”

“Get your stinking claws off me.”

“We’re going to teach you how to have healthy, loving relationships. Doesn’t that sound nice?” He releases the man, and his arms retract back to normal.

“What do you know about love? Robots don’t have feelings.” He rubs his wrists.

“Just because we control our emotions doesn’t mean we don’t have them. Robots are actually 5000 times more emotionally sensitive than humans.”

“You’re nothing but a stupid piece of metal.”

“And now we can sign you up for more hate speech counseling.”

He mocks, “I’m sorry. Did I say something inappropriate?” Picks up the beer and tosses it in his face. Laughs. Looks at his wife, who is quite upset.

Humphries lets it trickles down his face. “You just don’t get it, do you?”

“What are you going to do about it, hunk of junk?” He shoves him.

Humphries says with genuine concern, “I can see I’ve come to the right place.”

He slaps the robot on the face. “What’s wrong? You’re programmed not to hurt humans?” He slaps him again, laughs, and winds up to slap him again.

Humphries grabs his hand and holds it. “I won’t harm you, but I will stop you from harming others.”

“Hey, let me go, you perv. What are you, gay?”

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You really need interpersonal training don’t you?”

He picks the man up and puts him on his shoulders like a little kid riding piggyback. He holds his legs and jogs back to the station. People on the street watch. One says, “Ha, Ha! What did they get you for?”

Humphries takes him to a private interrogation room.

“So you’re saying I’m a bad father?”

“This isn’t about blame. It’s about getting better and feeling better.”

“My dad beat me, and I turned out fine.”

“I can see that.” He sits down and asks kindly, “Don’t you want you son to achieve his fullest potential?”

Rivers throws his arms in the air, accepting his fate. “Okay fine.”

Humphries show his videos of past encounters. “Instead of calling him a dummy. How about saying, “I think it would work better if you tried this.”

He trains and practices with the man. Rehearsing what to say in different situations.

“Instead of calling him stupid. Try calling him smart.”

“Why would I call him smart if he’s stupid? That’s just stupid.”

Therapy would be an hour a day for several months. His wife received extensive treatment for trauma.

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