At one time--this was before the Robot
Restriction Laws--they’d even allowed
them to make their own decisions...
It was a big, coffin-shaped plywood box that looked like it weighed a ton. This brawny type just dumped it through the door of the police station and started away. I looked up from the blotter and shouted at the trucker’s vanishing back.
“What the hell is that?”
“How should I know?” he said as he swung up into the cab. “I just deliver, I don’t X-ray ‘em. It came on the morning rocket from earth is all I know.” He gunned the truck more than he had to and threw up a billowing cloud of red dust.
“Jokers,” I growled to myself. “Mars is full of jokers.”
When I went over to look at the box I could feel the dust grate between my teeth. Chief Craig must have heard the racket because he came out of his office and helped me stand and look at the box.
“Think it’s a bomb?” he asked in a bored voice.
“Why would anyone bother--particularly with a thing this size? And all the way from earth.”
He nodded agreement and walked around to look at the other end. There was no sender’s address anywhere on the outside. Finally we had to dig out the crowbar and I went to work on the top. After some prying it pulled free and fell off.
That was when we had our first look at Ned. We all would have been a lot happier if it had been our last look as well. If we had just put the lid back on and shipped the thing back to earth! I know now what they mean about Pandora’s Box.
But we just stood there and stared like a couple of rubes. Ned lay motionless and stared back at us.
“A robot!” the Chief said.
“Very observant; it’s easy to see you went to the police academy.”
“Ha ha! Now find out what he’s doing here.”
I hadn’t gone to the academy, but this was no handicap to my finding the letter. It was sticking up out of a thick book in a pocket in the box. The Chief took the letter and read it with little enthusiasm.
“Well, well! United Robotics have the brainstorm that... _robots, correctly used will tend to prove invaluable in police work_ ... they want us to co-operate in a field test... _robot enclosed is the latest experimental model; valued at 120,000 credits_.”
We both looked back at the robot, sharing the wish that the credits had been in the box instead of it. The Chief frowned and moved his lips through the rest of the letter. I wondered how we got the robot out of its plywood coffin.
Experimental model or not, this was a nice-looking hunk of machinery. A uniform navy-blue all over, though the outlet cases, hooks and such were a metallic gold. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get that effect. This was as close as a robot could look to a cop in uniform, without being a joke. All that seemed to be missing was the badge and gun.
Then I noticed the tiny glow of light in the robot’s eye lenses. It had never occurred to me before that the thing might be turned on. There was nothing to lose by finding out.
“Get out of that box,” I said.
The robot came up smooth and fast as a rocket, landing two feet in front of me and whipping out a snappy salute.
“Police Experimental Robot, serial number XPO-456-934B, reporting for duty, sir.”
His voice quivered with alertness and I could almost hear the humming of those taut cable muscles. He may have had a stainless steel hide and a bunch of wires for a brain--but he spelled rookie cop to me just the same. The fact that he was man-height with two arms, two legs and that painted-on uniform helped. All I had to do was squint my eyes a bit and there stood Ned the Rookie Cop. Fresh out of school and raring to go. I shook my head to get rid of the illusion. This was just six feet of machine that boffins and brain-boys had turned out for their own amusement.
“Relax, Ned,” I said. He was still holding the salute. “At ease. You’ll get a hernia of your exhaust pipe if you stay so tense. Anyways, I’m just the sergeant here. That’s the Chief of Police over there.”
Ned did an about face and slid over to the Chief with that same greased-lightning motion. The Chief just looked at him like something that sprang out from under the hood of a car, while Ned went through the same report routine.
“I wonder if it does anything else beside salute and report,” the Chief said while he walked around the robot, looking it over like a dog with a hydrant.
“The functions, operations and responsible courses of action open to the Police Experimental Robots are outlined on pages 184 to 213 of the manual.” Ned’s voice was muffled for a second while he half-dived back into his case and came up with the volume mentioned. “A detailed breakdown of these will also be found on pages 1035 to 1267 inclusive.”
The Chief, who has trouble reading an entire comic page at one sitting, turned the 6-inch-thick book over in his hands like it would maybe bite him. When he had a rough idea of how much it weighed and a good feel of the binding he threw it on my desk.
“Take care of this,” he said to me as he headed towards his office. “And the robot, too. Do something with it.” The Chief’s span of attention never was great and it had been strained to the limit this time.
I flipped through the book, wondering. One thing I never have had much to do with is robots, so I know just as much about them as any Joe in the street. Probably less. The book was filled with pages of fine print, fancy mathematics, wiring diagrams and charts in nine colors and that kind of thing. It needed close attention. Which attention I was not prepared to give at the time. The book slid shut and I eyed the newest employee of the city of Nineport.
“There is a broom behind the door. Do you know how to use it?”
“In that case you will sweep out this room, raising as small a cloud of dust as possible at the same time.”
He did a very neat job of it.
I watched 120,000 credits worth of machinery making a tidy pile of butts and sand and wondered why it had been sent to Nineport. Probably because there wasn’t another police force in the solar system that was smaller or more unimportant than ours. The engineers must have figured this would be a good spot for a field test. Even if the thing blew up, nobody would really mind. There would probably be someone along some day to get a report on it. Well, they had picked the right spot all right. Nineport was just a little bit beyond nowhere.
Which, of course, was why I was there. I was the only real cop on the force. They needed at least one to give an illusion of the wheels going around. The Chief, Alonzo Craig, had just enough sense to take graft without dropping the money. There were two patrolmen. One old and drunk most of the time. The other so young the only scar he had was the mark of the attram. I had ten years on a metropolitan force, earthside. Why I left is nobody’s damn business. I have long since paid for any mistakes I made there by ending up in Nineport.
Nineport is not a city, it’s just a place where people stop. The only permanent citizens are the ones who cater to those on the way through. Hotel keepers, restaurant owners, gamblers, barkeeps, and the rest.
There is a spaceport, but only some freighters come there. To pick up the metal from some of the mines that are still working. Some of the settlers still came in for supplies. You might say that Nineport was a town that just missed the boat. In a hundred years I doubt if there will be enough left sticking of the sand to even tell where it used to be. I won’t be there either, so I couldn’t care less.
I went back to the blotter. Five drunks in the tank, an average night’s haul. While I wrote them up Fats dragged in the sixth one.
“Locked himself in the ladies’ john at the spaceport and resisting arrest,” he reported.
“D and D. Throw him in with the rest.”
Fats steered his limp victim across the floor, matching him step for dragging step. I always marveled at the way Fats took care of drunks, since he usually had more under his belt than they had. I have never seen him falling down drunk or completely sober. About all he was good for was keeping a blurred eye on the lockup and running in drunks. He did well at that. No matter what they crawled under or on top of, he found them. No doubt due to the same shared natural instincts.
Fats clanged the door behind number six and weaved his way back in. “What’s that?” he asked, peering at the robot along the purple beauty of his nose.
“That is a robot. I have forgotten the number his mother gave him at the factory so we will call him Ned. He works here now.”
“Good for him! He can clean up the tank after we throw the bums out.”
“That’s my job,” Billy said coming in through the front door. He clutched his nightstick and scowled out from under the brim of his uniform cap. It is not that Billy is stupid, just that most of his strength has gone into his back instead of his mind.
“That’s Ned’s job now because you have a promotion. You are going to help me with some of my work.”
Billy came in very handy at times and I was anxious that the force shouldn’t lose him. My explanation cheered him because he sat down by Fats and watched Ned do the floor.
.... There is more of this story ...