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It was so dry. I sucked on the little pebble and worked it around, but even that was failing to bring any saliva to my mouth. My canteen was empty, and the backup as well. I stopped, kneeling down to look at the tracks. They were growing more indistinct, getting older as I fell behind my quarry. The ground here was either hard, nearly kiln baked from the sun, or loose like sand. The latter often filled in any cracks in the former. This place was death, hot dry, and inhospitable to life.
Which is why I was following my quarry deeper into the blasted lands. A rogue robot, assuming the blowing sand didn't destroy its mobility it could survive this place long enough to emerge on the other side. I'd not make it that far. I was already beyond the red line on my mapper. I shook my head, brushing sand out of my hat and sarape.
I was dead either way unless I caught this damn thing. I owed too much to the wrong people, so either I pulled down this bounty or I ran and probably caught a bullet. I stood up, feeling immediately woozy. Damnit, I can't be dehydrated already. I looked up and found the sun, realizing it was probably two hours later than I had thought.
I put my hand on my sixgun and used the other to retrieve the mapper from under my wrap. The topography was fairly uniform so all I had to go on was bearing and distance. I was a good forty miles from the last outpost. Ah shit, I really was dead already. I swallowed, or tried to; my throat was too dry and it hurt like hell. If I turned back now, and was lucky as a two-tailed rattler, I might crawl back into the outpost and survive a little longer. If I continued I could get my bounty, and then die out here without ever bringing it back in.
I closed my eyes. There was no way to win. I'd have to try and go back, if I managed to live I might get lucky and evade my debtors. Big if. Even bigger might.
A crunch sounded behind me. I spun, my hand yanking my sixgun from its holster. I was dehydrated however, more so than I realized; my balance was shot, my fingers were clumsy. I toppled over, my gun slipping from my grasp and landing with a thump just before I hit dirt as well.
All I could make out were legs. Narrow metal that terminated in spikes. Crap, the hunter was the hunted. Bad news for me I guess. I rolled to my back, looking up at my quarry. It stared at me, a steel form imitating humanity, a poncho was draped over its body, and blowing in the dry wind. The small orb by its head zoomed toward me, hitting me with a multi-spectral scanning beam. "You doubled back?" I asked, confused.
"This unit waited. This unit has determined that you have passed beyond your maximum safe distance and will perish here without assistance," the 'bot responded.
"Well aint that just a thing? So you waited here to kill me?" I figured I may as well ask, I was already dead by any and all reckoning.
"This unit cannot allow harm to come to humans, therefore this unit waited to determine if you would pursue beyond your capable range." It head cocked to the side, "This unit fails to understand why humans insist on endangering themselves. This unit will render aid and carry you back to the nearest outpost."
"Uhh," I said, pulling my mapper up to my face by its lanyard. My fingers fumbled with it but I finally managed to calculate our options.
"This units will return south by south-east towar-"
"No. You will take me north to the Fall. There's a village there," I croaked, my mouth was dryer now for all the damn fool talking.
"The fall is three hours farther, this unit will -"
I interrupted the damn thing again, I wasn't sure why it was determined to help me, but I was damn sure going to force it to take me somewhere safe. I managed to lever my sixgun up to my head, "The Fall, or I kill myself."
The robot seemed to consider it. "This unit will comply on one condition."
Seriously, it had conditions? This thing was confusing the hell out of me. "What?" I croaked.
"This unit desires to be free. After this unit takes you to the Fall you will cease to pursue it."
Summary - A bounty hunter tracking a rogue robot. A brush with death, and a deal upon which two lives rest.