The Chief was still sitting there with that bloodless look when we marched in. I didn’t believe it could be done, but he went two shades whiter.

“You made the pinch,” he whispered. Before I could straighten him out a second and more awful idea hit him. He grabbed a handful of shirt on the first torpedo and poked his face down. “You with China Joe,” he snarled.

The punk made the error of trying to be cute so the Chief let him have one on the head with the open hand that set his eyes rolling like marbles. When the question got asked again he found the right answer.

“I never heard from no China Joe. We just hit town today and—”

“Freelance, by God,” the Chief sighed and collapsed into his chair. “Lock ‘em up and quickly tell me what in hell happened.”

I slammed the gate on them and pointed a none too steady finger at Ned.

“There’s the hero,” I said. “Took them on single-handed, rassled them for a fall and made the capture. He is a one-robot tornado, a power for good in this otherwise evil community. And he’s bulletproof too.” I ran a finger over Ned’s broad chest. The paint was chipped by the slugs, but the metal was hardly scratched.

“This is going to cause me trouble, big trouble,” the Chief wailed.

I knew he meant with the protection boys. They did not like punks getting arrested and guns going off without their okay. But Ned thought the Chief had other worries and rushed in to put them right. “There will be no trouble. At no time did I violate any of the Robotic Restriction Laws, they are part of my control circuits and therefore fully automatic. The men who drew their guns violated both robotic and human law when they threatened violence. I did not injure the men—merely restrained them.”

It was all over the Chief’s head, but I liked to think I could follow it. And I had been wondering how a robot—a machine—could be involved in something like law application and violence. Ned had the answer to that one too.

“Robots have been assuming these functions for years. Don’t recording radar meters pass judgment on human violation of automobile regulations? A robot alcohol detector is better qualified to assess the sobriety of a prisoner than the arresting officer. At one time robots were even allowed to make their own decisions about killing. Before the Robotic Restriction Laws automatic gun-pointers were in general use. Their final development was a self-contained battery of large anti-aircraft guns. Automatic scan radar detected all aircraft in the vicinity. Those that could not return the correct identifying signal had their courses tracked and computed, automatic fuse-cutters and loaders readied the computer-aimed guns—which were fired by the robot mechanism.”

There was little I could argue about with Ned. Except maybe his college-professor vocabulary. So I switched the attack.

“But a robot can’t take the place of a cop, it’s a complex human job.”

“Of course it is, but taking a human policeman’s place is not the function of a police robot. Primarily I combine the functions of numerous pieces of police equipment, integrating their operations and making them instantly available. In addition I can aid in the mechanical processes of law enforcement. If you arrest a man you handcuff him. But if you order me to do it, I have made no moral decision. I am just a machine for attaching handcuffs at that point …”

My raised hand cut off the flow of robotic argument. Ned was hipped to his ears with facts and figures and I had a good idea who would come off second best in any continued discussion. No laws had been broken when Ned made the pinch, that was for sure. But there are other laws than those that appear on the books.

“China Joe is not going to like this, not at all,” the Chief said, speaking my own thoughts.

The law of Tooth and Claw. That’s one that wasn’t in the law books. And that was what ran Nineport. The place was just big enough to have a good population of gambling joints, bawdy houses and drunk-rollers. They were all run by China Joe. As was the police department. We were all in his pocket and you might say he was the one who paid our wages. This is not the kind of thing, though, that you explain to a robot.

“Yeah, China Joe.” … chevronRight icon