It was going to be dark in an hour. Above the skyscrapers the clouds had been building and sunset would be earlier than expected. Bink scanned the crowd for his master. The street was packed with commuters and evening shoppers, but there was no sign of Chuan-Ti.
The robot did not have the capacity to worry, but he knew that an absence of five hours was unexpected. He checked the various email accounts and private messaging services Chuan-Ti used. There was no sign of activity. This was not unusual; his owner was in the security business and that meant he often needed to let his signals go dark. Still, five hours was a long time.
Bink let his gaze pass over the box he stood on; the box he was charged with protecting. Inside the brown cardboard was a steel case. It was reinforced and lined with custom materials designed to block scanning. The robot had a selection of passive sensors. He would detect any attempt to probe the package. Should such an event occur Bink’s response would depend on what happened next. His primary duties were to ensure the box was kept safe and to stop anyone other than his master accessing it. If that meant taking aggressive action he would do so; if it meant picking up the item and running to one of the security holds Chuan-Ti kept around the city so be it.
A mother – young daughter in tow – brushed by him. Bink had to move one of his legs to avoid a shopping bag knocking him from his perch. His head was level with the girl’s. She stared at the robot as she rushed by. He bowed to her and flicked the covers across his eyes. The girl burst out laughing and then she was gone, swallowed up by the crowd; her mother, and the fast flow of people, pulled her away. Bink returned to watching passersby. There were no threats. No one was attempting to take his prize from him. Again he wondered why Chuan-Ti had not come to collect him.
A gasp followed by something small hitting the ground. Bink kept his angular head still but opened up further audio apertures on his right side. The sounds came from an alley fifteen meters away. Analysis indicated three people. The object that had been dropped was most likely a personal communications device. A fight was taking place. One person slumped to the floor. Kicks were being landed.
A mugging; nothing unusual in this or any other large city across the world. Bink could have intervened; it was well within his capabilities. A short sprint to reach the alley; four pinpoint shots to the legs of the attackers; restraining clips applied; the police called; back to his post. This would take him an estimated thirty two seconds, but he did not move; that was not his job.
Bink closed the extra sensors and returned to sentry duty. He checked Chuan-Ti’s accounts again; there were no updates. The first drops of rain hit his casing. People rushed for shelter. The rain grew heavier. Bink suspected the monsoon season was finally here. Within moments the street was empty. The little robot stood alone on the box. He hoped Chuan-Ti would return soon. He did not want to wait all night.
19 February 2010
A picture of a two-year-old toddler chained to a post in Beijing came to the attention of the world. It transpired that this was not intentional cruelty, but the father trying to keep his son safe. A few weeks before the man’s daughter had been taken from the same spot as she played with her sibling while their father worked only metres away. The family are too poor to afford child care and are not eligible for help from the state.
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