Otalli Habn Star opened his mouth as wide as possible and inhaled deeply. He stuck out his tongue to feel the air, full in his mouth, and rolled it around. Nothing. No moisture in it. In fact, he felt the precious liquid evaporating past his lips. He closed his mouth and frowned.
It was too dry here. It might be too dry everywhere.
“Well?” Asked Sharon.
He shook his head, no. Sharon sighed heavily and followed him across the wasteland. It had been sixteen days with no luck for the three of them. Well, two actually. Binco didn’t count. Not really. Oh, sure, she talked to him, and he talked back more often than Otalli did, but he wasn’t human. She glanced behind her to make sure he was keeping up.
The robot was trudging along on the hot, packed earth, at a steady pace. His frame was made of flexible plastics, virtually unbreakable, but capable of bending under strain. He certainly was strained. The amount of gear they’d loaded onto him was more than enough to curl his legs out like a bowlegged cowboy. He looked ridiculous, piled high with water barrels, packs, and boxes. On top of it all was an angled solar panel held on with bungee straps. She was constantly convinced that he was going to fall over at any moment, but he never did. Those were some damn fine internal gyros.
“You doing okay there, Binco?” She asked.
He didn’t look up at her. “Yup yup.”
She went back to following Otalli. Not for the first time in the past weeks, she got the strange impression that while Binco was the future, following behind her, Otalli was the past, on the path ahead. He wore white robes and a turban with a colorful cloak (mostly green with rivers of rust and turquoise). He carried a long, slender stick, nearly twenty five feet long over his shoulder. She had no idea what it was for. She actually had no idea how he was even alive in the blistering heat without an environmental suit. Hers kept her surface temperature around seventy four degrees in all the places it came into contact with her, a full forty degrees cooler than the outside temp. Her face got hot, but small fans in her collar blew cold air up at her. She had on a reflective hat. If she broke a sweat, it was because she wasn’t used to walking all day, not the lethal heat. But now, weeks in, she was acclimating and even sweating wasn’t happening much anymore.
Mostly she was bored.
Those little moments when Otalli opened his mouth like a fish and looked at the sky were pretty much the highlight of the day. It meant that they were one time closer to when they’d be done. He didn’t talk to her. Didn’t look at her. Slept apart on the stone. Whatever he was eating or drinking was under his robes and she never saw it. Hell, she spent four days spying on him to see if he took a piss. He didn’t. Well, maybe he did and it just evaporated. It was pretty damn hot out.
Four hours later and he stopped to do it again. She watched him, eyes rolled back into his head, forehead aimed at the sky, tongue all the way out on his chin. Over his mouth there were heat vapors, like a mirage. It looked like he was exhaling a wavering column of water that resembled a sky colored flame. After several minutes he closed his mouth.
“Well?” Asked Sharon.
He squinted at her but didn’t shake his head no. Raising his arm he pointed his long strange stick off to the horizon on the right.
“Jesus. Are you serious?”
Otalli Habn Star arched an eyebrow at her.
“Right, right. Very serious. Got it. Okay, so, lead on.” She was surprised. A part of her had thought this would take months. Another part thought she was on a fools errand and she’d wind up a bleached skeleton in a very expensive environmental suit with a bowlegged robot tombstone.
Otalli put his hand up. Pointed to her robot, the only thing that had talked to her since they landed on this inhospitable rock, and raised a flat palm. The message was clear. No Binco.
Okay, he could stay here. She could go, get what she needed, and come back by nightfall. She shouted back at him.
“Pitch camp, Binco. Stay with the stuff.” Binko dropped gear and started setting up.
“Okay, let’s go.” Sharon said.
Otalli shook his head. He pointed to her environmental suit and put his palm up. Again, the message was clear. No suit.
“Oh, you’ve gotta be shitting me!” She said.
Otalli Habn Star was not one to shit.
She undressed. He waited until she’d removed every shred of clothing, even her shoes. The intense sunlight on her flesh felt like an actual weight. It was a hot veneer and she was certain she’d burn.
But it was worth it.
The man in robes, bearing a long stick, walked with the naked woman under the terrible sun and they left the robot behind them.