Chapter Ten: The Genius

Merida wondered if Baymax might have exaggerated about Hiro Hamada. If he turned out to be the wild and bratty type of child, then her experience with her triplet brothers would serve her well. She missed those days when she could bribe them with pastries to play pranks on the handmaiden or distract her mother. Sighing, Merida escaped her thoughts and looked out from her flying companion.

The lush, dark green forests and grassy hills were long gone. Even the tiniest trees turned scarce across a desolate, dry land. Just ahead, Merida spotted a remote city, where faded purple, mixed with filthy streaks of brown, cloaked the sky. Baymax maintained a straight path, zooming towards their destination. Merida could handle the ghostly winds that crept through the pine trees of her homeland but there was something sinister about the wailing zephyrs that haunted the barren buildings. Her stomach bubbled uneasily. Baymax softly reminded Merida to breathe in and out slowly. She heeded his tip and appreciated his ability to detect her nausea.

Their smooth descent brought them to a cube-like warehouse, nestled in between two buildings that appeared to have been ransacked. Broken windows and scorch marks covered their walls.

Upon setting her feet to the ground, Merida turned around and tried to listen for anyone else. She searched without straying too far from Baymax. She focused her senses, only picking up the melancholy moans of the distant wind. The city remained as hollow as the school that she and Jack Skellington had explored. Was this place also plagued by a visit from the Heartless?

Merida turned her eyes back to Baymax, approaching the brittle doors to the warehouse.

"Hiro is over here. Do not be afraid. It is safe inside." Baymax pushed one door forward and waited.

"Right," muttered Merida. Her head flipped back to her earlier suspicions. How was a child going to help her? Could he fight? Did he have any useful information on the Heartless? Whatever the answers were, Merida figured they were going to be as strange as everything else she had witnessed so far in her journey. She joined Baymax and entered the warehouse.

Greeting the princess and the robot was an enormous contraption. Merida could not figure out where to start with this mechanical mess. Her overwhelmed eyes flickered from the broken beams of steel to the leathery belt that zigzagged towards the ground where it wrapped around a large, rusty wheel. Merida could only describe it as some kind of over-sized spindle.

A creaking door and patter of footsteps echoed from overhead. Merida spotted a scrawny kid, emerging from an elevated mezzanine with glass walls. Scurrying down the jangling ladder, he wore an purple helmet, a chest plate, and knee-length trousers.

"Baymax!" The kid pounced over to the robot who caught him and quickly embraced him.

"Hiro!" exclaimed Baymax. His voice had never sounded so jolly to Merida. She smiled as Baymax and the kid reunited. So this was Hiro Hamada. He seemed sweet and innocent enough. Time to determine if her hunch was true.

"Buddy! It took you a while. I see...you brought someone back." Hiro gave a hesitant look to Merida.

"I did. Her name is Merida. She needs medical attention, food, and cleansing."

"I'm not that dirty!" insisted Merida, giving her arms a quick sniff. Hiro flared his eyes at her shrill voice. He shrugged before approaching her.

"Well...I'm glad Baymax was able to help you...Merida. I'm Hiro. Hiro Hamada. He offered his gloved hand. Up close, Merida could see his spikey strands of black hair, poking out from his helmet.

"I am Merida of Dunbroch," Merida lowered her head and took Hiro's hand. He examined her quietly. As his eyes flew up and down, Hiro tightened his lips.

"Is there something wrong?" asked Merida with an awkward frown.

"I'm just...wondering where Baymax found you." Hiro then faced Baymax. "Did you learn anything from your recon?"

"My survey sensors detected...a greater distortion in dimensions...near the forests and mountains. I did not find anyone else...except her."

"That might explain how she's dressed," remarked Hiro.

"Excuse me?!" snapped Merida. "And I dun suppose we shouldn't be gawking at you and yer missing armor? The color's a bit flashy too." She flapped her hand across Hiro's body.

"It's a superhero-themed costume. Why are you dressed like a princess from a renaissance fair?"

"Dressed like a?!" Merida burst into a fiery fit. "I AM A PRINCESS! Merida of Dunbroch."

Hiro scoffed at her.

"What the heck is Dun-brock?"

"What the heck is a re-nee-sunce fair?" spat Merida.

"Now, now," said Baymax calmly. He stepped in between Hiro and Merida. "Hiro...you must be stressed...from being at the computer. It is fine to take a break. Merida...you are exhausted. Let me take you to our nursing room. Rest and eat. Then we can discuss what you know about the monsters."

"Wait. You've seen monsters too?" asked Hiro.

"Yeah! They're dark demons with those buggy-eyes and head-thingies." Merida gestured with her hands waving over her head.

"You mean antennas?" Hiro was slightly annoyed by Merida's description and her accent. He sighed and attempted to sound mature. "Look, I'm glad Baymax saved you."

"Yer friend gave me an apple and flew me 'ere. I saved mee-self but I..." Merida paused. She would have choked if she had truthfully finished her sentence. She shook her head and refreshed her thoughts. "The Heartless took me family and me home. I fought however many I could. But there's a bigger plan out there. They're coming all over the kingdoms through doorways. We've got to find the main door of all doors."

"Whoa, whoa. What are you talking about? Doors and Heartless. How do you know any of this?" asked Hiro skeptically.

Merida groaned. She scratched her mangled head of red hair in frustration. She gasped and reached into her satchel. She slammed Jack's tattered book into Hiro's bony arms.

"That book! It's got pictures and notes on the Heartless. That what those monsters are called. I told ye what I know. Have you got anything useful?"

"Well loads...but-" Hiro cut off his conversation with Merida and spoke to Baymax, "Did you pick up any weird signals when you found this...princess?"

"The fluctuations in my readings rose significantly where I detected Merida. They resemble the same frequencies from the portal," reported Baymax.

"Portal?" asked Merida.

"Ahhhh. So you that's why she looks like she's out of her own time. Be careful next time, Baymax. I don't wanna lose you again, pal."

"What the devil are ye blabbing about?" yelled Merida.

"How do I put this?" Hiro hummed, holding the chin of his helmet. "We're from a city called San Fransokyo. One day, we noticed that there were...irregular magnetic fields. Harmless at first...but these monsters came out of nowhere. They attacked people and started infecting them...they turned into monsters too. My friends and I tried to fight them off but they kept coming. We decided to split the team. Four of us made a stronghold, protecting who we could. Baymax and I flew off, trying to find the source. Our only lead were the magnetic fields. We thought we knew where we were going but the world around us started to change. We found this abandoned city and this warehouse. We're hoping to find something from these computers and machines. I sent Baymax to go looking for anything unusual...and then he found you...at the edge of your world. And that's probably how we got here too. Different dimensions. Different worlds. Does that make sense?"

"It's a whole lot to think about. But it looks like we're on the same side. We need to stop the Heartless." Merida knew it was best to not overthink their story, especially after she bore little doubt towards Jack's tales of Halloween Town.

"Sure. Call'em that if you want to. We'll take care'em if they show up. I'm a robotics genius and Baymax is coded for medical and combat functions." Hiro skimmed through the pages of the tattered book. He rolled his eyes and blew his lips. When he returned the book to Merida, she glared at him. She could clearly tell that he did not take her side of the Heartless matter seriously.

"I can fight too. With me bow and me sword," affirmed Merida.

"We appreciate the assistance, Merida," said Baymax, "Healthy camaraderie and tactical teamwork will serve us well. Don't you agree, Hiro?"

"Sure, Baymax. Merida...you can get yourself freshened up." Hiro slipped his hands back into his pockets and walked away. "I'll let you know if I...need anything." He hopped up the steps and climbed the ladder back to the mezzanine.

"Uggh!" Merida huffed, parting the strands of red hair away from her forehead.

"My apologies on Hiro's behalf. Please follow me to the nursing room." Baymax led Merida to a closed door, opposite of where Hiro had gone. Merida glared at his face through the dusty window. She shook her head and followed Baymax into a room, furnished with a pristine bed with folded sheets, a rack of bottles and tiny labeled boxes. While Merida rolled onto the bed, Baymax explained that he had re-purposed the room for proper medical care in case Hiro or any other person needed it. She was then guided to a smaller room where she discovered a smooth porcelain bowl attached to a water tank, sitting a few feet away from tub, hidden by plastic drapes. Baymax explained the bathing mechanisms as simple as he could and presented her two clean towels and two tiny bottles, one for body soap, and one for hair. Merida quickly figured out how to use the knobs for hot and cold water. She accepted Baymax's offer and handed him her dress to be cleaned while in the bathroom. For Baymax, it was a simple process of spraying airy soap and emitting a warm temperature, both of which were customized for the velvety fabric. He cleared the mud stains and laid it out on the bed, along with a tray of vitamins and rations.

Baymax closed the nursing room behind him and flew over to the mezzanine. He entered the control room where Hiro was groaning at the clutter of monitors and wires.

"Unbelievable!" exclaimed Hiro.

"I have assisted Merida with her needs. Do you need any assistance?" asked Baymax.

"Not really," mumbled Hiro. He brought the keyboard to his lap and entered a series of coded commands. A few lines appeared on the dim monitors. He reached out to unplug a cord and insert it into another opening. He tapped the glassy surface of the monitor and tried to drag the cursor over to a file icon. Abruptly, the screen flashed and screeched static. Hiro slammed his finger on a corner button and yanked out a batch of cords.

"It is okay to get frustrated," said Baymax kindly.

"Not right now, it's not!" snapped Hiro. "The system is crashed. Both the hardware and software. I gotta repair it to get access on these files. It's all up to me."

"It's up to both of us. Hiro. I have a high percentage rating that you will fix this and retrieve what could be data on stopping the Heartless."

"Don't call them that. You don't know if she's...you know...sane," grumbled Hiro.

"I believe Merida of Dunbroch is mentally stable. When she spoke of the Heartless, I detected no sign of lying. She is, however, very distraught. Much like you," said Baymax. Hiro disliked the comparison. He went back to agonizing over the wrecked computer equipment. He froze mid-thought and cried out angrily.

"Hiro. You are my primary patient. Please be open. I want to help you," insisted Baymax, reaching his arms from behind. Hiro frowned mildly. He nudged away as he rose to his feet.

"I'm tired of all these questions. What's been happening...it's not science. Merida...is just another wrench to what I thought was going on. Another big question mark. Everyone back home...is counting on me."

"Perhaps Merida can help. You only...skimmed the book she gave you," said Baymax, "She did mention a door. Perhaps it's similar...to the portal."

"You mean the pocket dimension?" Hiro recounted his first mission with his team, Big Hero 6. They had uncovered a revenge plot to destroy a man and his company with a vortex-inducing portal. The journey inside the portal and out was astounding beyond his comprehension. Hiro had tried to move past it until Baymax reported a similar magnetic field of energy after the first attack on San Fransokyo.

"Perhaps the Heartless...are using their own...portal to travel to...different places. This may have caused...a rift between dimensions, blending into each other," analyzed Baymax.

"Which explains why Merida is the way she is." Hiro had thought of her as a fairy tale cosplayer. Now he was convinced that she truly came from a medieval setting.

"I do believe that given these recent phenomena, we may find clues in her book. Let's wait until she's finished and talk to her again. She is very sweet. She is a good girl," said Baymax.

"Buddy. You think everybody is a good boy or girl," chuckled Hiro.

"Showing signs of...compassion and...respect can greatly affect a person's behavior," stated Baymax. Hiro smiled and hugged Baymax. He sat back down and took a deep breath. He examined the pieces of hardware, laying in front of him. When Baymax slowly picked up a broken panel piece, Hiro glimpsed at the computer chip, sticking out of it. He snatched it from Baymax who gave no audible response. Hiro rapidly reassembled the chunks of hardware with wires from the chips. He plugged in the ends of cords into what he believed where the correct outlets. After a few clicks, Hiro turned the main computer back on.

"Woo!" Hiro turned giddy. He traced his finger on the touch pad to move the cursor. He dug into a folder of documents and scrolled down the list. Hiro filtered the contents by data size. One massive program icon rose to the top. Hiro clicked it and opened a surveillance program with multiple recorded videos.

"I believe Merida would want to see these videos too. I will go check on her." Baymax left the control room and hovered smoothly to the ground floor. By himself, Hiro whistled and lay down. He had finally done it. After hours of scrambling with computer junk, Hiro managed to recover the data that could reveal who was behind the creature attacks. He waved the cursor on the screen over the play button. Hiro hissed with anticipation and bit his tongue. He leaped off the floor to peek at Merida through the window. She spun in her comfortable dress and flipped her wild red hair. By the luminous look on her face, Hiro could tell how refreshed she felt. He quickly frowned, wishing that she and Baymax would hurry up to the control room. He had been so patient, after slaving for so long with the buttons and wires. He believed he deserved a sneak peek. The program worked much like a video player with the basic controls and a track meter. He would play a few seconds of the first clip and rewind it before Baymax and Merida would join him.

He traced the cursor over to the triangular symbol. It was the icon to play the video. He clicked with a heavy tap of his finger.

BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING! BLING!

A barrage of bright, blood-red boxes blinded the screen. Hiro's heart pinched painfully.

The warehouse speakers blasted a ringing alarm. Merida jumped, swishing her long red hair. Baymax turned his attention immediately to Hiro. He scanned him from a distance and detected his fear. The ceiling and corner lights blinked rapidly. Merida raced back into the restroom to retrieve her bow, quiver, and sword. Baymax tried to scan the warehouse for any technological anomalies. His sensors detected a powerful pulse of magnetic energy. It matched the frequency as the readings from his first encounter with the shadowy creatures in San Fransokyo.

Puddles of dark purple sap erupted from the ground floor. Hiro darted out of the control room. He watched in disgusted awe as more than half of the puddles took the shape of familiar shadowy imps. Two new kinds of creature revealed themselves. Merida loaded her bow with an arrow and aimed towards the three monsters, resembling floating witches with wands and pointed hats. Baymax readied his humongous fists against three other monsters, wearing pale blue armor; they each held a thick shield with the face of a devil-dog.

"Oh...no," said Baymax calmly.

Hiro felt a wretched lump in his throat. So much for being a brilliant prodigy. So much for having the right ideas. Hammering in his head, Hiro had a single thought.

"Hiro, you idiot!"