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"I believe in limited government, and the 20th century has been the century of government. The data is uniform. The government has failed at every single task it has set out to do, with the exception of waging war."
- Bart Kosko

Rat Thing  
  A guard cyborg created from a living animal.  

The body is Rottweiler-sized, segmented into overlapping hard plates like those of a rhinoceros. The legs are long, curled way up to deliver power, like a cheetah's. It must be the tail that makes people refer to it as a Rat Thing, because that's the only ratlike part - incredibly long and flexible.

The grass under the Rat Thing is beginning to smoke.

"Careful. Supposedly they have really nasty isotopes inside," Hiro says behind her... "A radioactive substance that makes heat. That's its energy source."

"How do you turn it off?"

"You don't. It keeps making heat until it melts."

The body converges to a sharp nose. In the front it bends down sharply, and there is a black canopy, raked sharply like the windshield of a fighter plane. If the Rat Thing has eyes, this is where it looks out.

From Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam in 1992
Additional resources -

Compare the Rat Thing to the slamhound from William Gibson's 1986 novel Count Zero, and of course the mechanical hound from Ray Bradbury's 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451.

Thanks to Jerry for suggesting this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Snow Crash
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to Snow Crash
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

Rat Thing-related news articles:
  - MIT's Cheetah Robot Runs Easier Than Real Cheetah
  - MIT Robot Cheetah Video Shows Gait Transition
  - WildCat Runs Faster Than You, Untethered
  - Why, Oh Why, Must We Develop Robots That Run Faster Than I Do?
  - Cheetah 2 Robot Now Leaps Obstacles To Get You

Articles related to Robotics
When Computers Develop Their Own Language, Will They Talk To Us?
Robot Strolls Field, Examines EVERY Plant
TITAN-III Spider Robot Is WAY Too Quick (Video)
Bill Gates Suggests Tax On Robots

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