Chapter Nine: The Companion
Merida had never felt so alone in her life. Her aching heart clung to regret. Her growling stomach begged for food. Her hand dove into her satchel and tapped only Jack's book and a soggy loaf. There was not an edible morsel in the shack. She was surrounded by broken shelves, empty jars, and scraps of parchment.
A pounding knock at the door. Merida let out a whimper. She slapped her mouth shut and feared that someone had heard her.
"It is okay. I will not harm you." It was an oddly calm voice with a strange accent. There was no flow, rhythm, or personality to his speech. As far as Merida knew, it was not human.
Merida adamantly remained in her corner. She hoped that whoever or whatever was outside would leave. She was too exhausted to put up a fight. Exhausted and hungry.
"You are hungry...and scared," stated the voice. "I will not enter if you do not want me to. If you do, I will see to your injuries and give you food."
Merida widened her eyes in trepidation. How could this person know how she was actually feeling? Was it a mystic or a witch? Maybe it used a spell to track her inside the shack.
"You are also distressed," continued the voice. "I will comfort you and provide therapeutic counsel if you like. You may come out when you are ready."
Merida went from terrified to bemused. She had absolutely no idea what the voice was offering. What she did understand was that it was persistent yet steady. Not once did it break down the door. Given the strength of its knocking and the brittle structure of the shack, Merida could very well be demolished. Her fate lay completely in someone else's hands.
Merida had to know more. She lunged to the cold, dusty floor and crawled out of her corner. She peered through the broken wooden panels. She gripped her chest and sealed her shrieking cry. It was a bulky knight, clad in bright crimson armor. Its lower torso was purple as were the spots on its shoulder and elbow. She squinted at what appeared to be folded wings. A terrifying thought flickered in her head. Could it be a Heartless?
The crimson knight turned its head with a grinding noise. Right as it glanced at Merida, she scurried away.
"I wish to help you...but I understand if you are scared. I will wait until you are ready," said the knight. It stood frozen, seemingly out of chivalry. As Merida waited, it did not make a sound. Perhaps it was not with the enemy but a fellow victim. Merida wanted to trust it but she had her doubts. Still, since it knew where she was hiding, Merida decided to finally reply.
"You wanna help me? What are ye? Some kind of angel?" joked Merida, nervously breathing between her words.
"I am not an angel. I am a robot," revealed the knight.
"A robot? What's that supposed to be?" Merida scrunched her face. She had definitely never heard of such a title.
"A robot. There are three definitions. The most appropriate is 'a machine that resembles a human and does mechanical, routine tasks on command'. My primary function is to assess the needs of my patients who are injured or sick until they are satisfied with their care," said the robot.
"Uh huh...so are ye a kind of armored nurse or somethin'?" Merida tried to rationalize what little she understood from the robot.
"A nurse would be an adequate comparison." There was a pause after the robot's answer. It turned its head back towards the front door. "Are you now ready to come out?"
Merida had tested the robot long enough. As she rose to her staggering feet, Merida accepted that she could very well be walking into a devious trap. She might as well get on with it. She slowly approached the door, which was only a simple piece of wood that separated her from a suspicious figure. She hefted her satchel, hanging opposite of her quiver. With a deep breath, she thought about Jack Skellington, who left a bizarre yet bewitching impression. It was his personality that earned her trust. But the robot had no character except what seemed to be good intentions. She took a chance. She opened the door.
His hulking frame eclipsed whatever light lingered in the sky. Merida gulped and stepped outside. She tried to tame her shuddering breath with a royal glare, the kind her mother would use as queen. The robot had two solid black eyes, connected by a single black line. They were not black as a cold, sinister night. Rather, they were like harmless dots.
"Good," said the robot. Merida felt a shivering tingle down her spine. "I am Baymax. Your personal health care companion. Please nourish yourself with this." The robot lowered one hand and pushed out a fresh, scarlet apple from its panel-like palm. Merida reached out to take its offering. She took her time and watched Baymax's other arm. She snatched the apple and chomped a juicy bite. Her teeth quickly pounded the fruit into mush. She scarfed every edible inch of the apple and tossed its core.
"I will scan you for further data." Baymax bobbed its head quickly, down and up. "Scan complete."
"Scan? What's that?" asked Merida.
"To confirm my earlier assessment. You are distressed...injured...and dirty. I can take proper care of your needs...if you will allow me to escort you to a more...sanitary location."
"You want me to go with you?" Merida sidestepped around Baymax. Maybe there was some kind of wicked plot after all.
"I can treat you here...if you prefer. However...given the environment...and lack of supplies, I believe I can provide...better quality...elsewhere."
Merida tried to think of anything other than her weakened body. She mustered whatever strength remained and walked away. Slow but stomping footsteps followed her.
"I'd like to be left alone now," said Merida.
"I cannot deactivate until you say you are satisfied with your care," replied Baymax.
She took one soft step forward under her dress. Baymax proceeded to take one heavy step after her.
"Fiiine. I am satisfied with me care. Now will ya go?" asked Merida, shrill and irritated.
Baymax tilted its head as if processing her answer.
"My sensors indicate...that you are...not telling the truth. You are tired...injured...have a risk of infection...and distressed."
"I'm not distressed!" cried Merida in a harsh tone. It became increasingly difficult to stay dignified and calm.
"It is normal to feel...defensive," said Baymax.
"I don know who ya are or where ya from, but don go acting like you know what I'm feeling! You don know anything!" Merida immediately seized her sword by the hilt. She scowled, turning her face as bright red as Baymax's armor.
"I know that you show signs of loss...pain...and guilt." Baymax's smooth words ignited a rage within the perturbed princess. Merida yelled as she charged with her sword. Her repeated attacks had no effect on his armor. Baymax stood still, waiting for her to finish. Merida panted and growled furiously. She stared at the polished surface of Baymax's unscathed armor. It was just another reminder that no matter how hard she tried, she could not do anything right.
Merida plunged her sword into ground. Her heart sunk in despair. She weakly held onto the hilt and fell to her knees. She sobbed and hid in her face under the veil of curly red hair. Tears ran down her dirty cheeks. The flow of emotions and pain came fast and hard. Her guard was down. She was helpless to whatever distrustful deed Baymax may want to inflict on her.
CLICK! Tiny jets of air spurted in front of Merida. She looked up and watched the plates and pieces of Baymax's armor loosen and fall. His mighty fists and chest guard pummeled the dirt. Merida was struck by how this robot-nurse was shedding its defenses. She parted the dangling strands of red hair and saw Baymax in a new form. It was white and pudgy. Still tall but much less threatening. Its pure face lacked a mouth but its serene eyes blinked at her. Baymax approached Merida and embraced her in his marshmallowy arms.
"There, there," Baymax's voice turned low and sweet. He emitted a cozy, comforting warmth from its skin. Merida sniffled and sighed. She eased the tension in her shoulders and leaned in for a tighter hug.
"Yer too sweet. What are ye even doing out 'ere?" asked Merida, wiping the snot and tears on her sleeve.
"I was sent by my primary patient...Hiro Hamada...to look for other...patients in need."
"Oh? How many have ye found so far?" asked Merida.
"Only you. People have started to...disappear. So have their homes."
"Homes...disappearing? Wait," Merida forced herself to shrug out of Baymax's blissful embrace. "Did ye see any Heartless? Wee devils of darkness. They attacked me home...and other places too."
"I do not understand the term...Heartless. But there have been...strange phenomena and sightings of...unusual creatures. They pose a great danger to people. Hiro and I are working to remove them."
"I wanna make sure we are talking about the same monsters. Did they look creepy and dark? Did-did they have a Heartless symbol? It looks like a black heart with red," recalled Merida.
"The creatures did have a symbol...similar to what you described."
"So then it must be the Heartless. I can help ye stop them. Take me to this Hiro Hama-wada fellow. I'll tell ye both what I know."
"That would be ideal. I can also take proper care of your health needs." Baymax straightened his posture. Somehow, the pieces of crimson metal flung off the ground and reassembled the full armor onto Baymax's body. He withrew his chubby gut, equipping the confined chest guard into place. A series of clicks sealed the armor back into his knightly form.
Baymax folded his arm and activated an automatic light.
"What are ye doing now?" asked Merida.
"I have contacted Hiro. I am sure he will be pleased to meet you. He's working on gathering data on the creatures that you call the Heartless," explained Baymax.
"Then he sounds like someone we can trust," inferred Merida.
"We can trust Hiro. He is a good boy," claimed Baymax with the slightest bit of pride.
"Boy. He's a child?" asked Merida in disbelief.
"And you're a teenager. And I'm a robot," stated Baymax.
"I still dun understand what a robot is but I'll accept ya for what ya are." Merida gave a content smile.
"Does that mean that you now trust me?" asked Baymax.
Merida was struck by Baymax's question. She looked up to him and instantly remembered her decision to trust a tall skeleton man. A series of weird faces and strange characters would never end with her journey to save her family. After meeting Jack and losing him, she wanted to save him too. She patted her satchel, holding Jack's book on the Heartless. She carried what could be the key to eliminating the Heartless across the many kingdoms of the land. In order to achieve anything, allies would be needed. Merida left her thoughts at stared Baymax's face, patient and placid.
"Ya. I reckon I'll trust ya. So how long will it take to walk to this friend of yers?" inquired Merida.
"We will not walk. We will...fly," said Baymax firmly.
"Fly?" Merida lifted her eyebrows. Baymax turned around and flapped out his metal wings.
"Please climb onto my back and hold on tight. We should arrive in approximately four minutes."
"Yer that fast, eh? I wonder if you'd beat my horse, Angus." Merida reclaimed her spunky charm. She lifted her feet, one at a time, onto the small black pads on Baymax's waist. She grabbed the handles on his shoulders.
PWWWWSH! Gushing flames burst from under Baymax's feet. They lifted him and Merida upward, rocketing past the trees. The wind blasted Merida's face. She cried out loud and reveled in the thrill of the ride. They hovered in midair, far from the shack.
"Your heart rate is increasing," said Baymax.
"Is that a...good thing?" asked Merida cautiously.
"Yes. Your distress levels are lowering. You are feeling...excited."
"I guess I am." Merida chuckled.
"Do not loosen your hold. We will be flying much faster now."
PWWWWSH! Baymax leaned forward and zoomed. Merida tightened her shoulders and clawed her fingers over the handles. They soared over the winding dirt trail. Merida thrived in the wondrous winds, rushing past her face and wild hair. She admired the vast view of the Eastern mountains and the Western forests. She dared not look back and risk spotting the school where she had encountered Oogie Boogie. She had lost Jack Skellington thanks to that sinister sack of bugs. It was up to her to save her frightful friend. By working with Baymax and this person named Hiro, she believed she still had hope. She was glad to not be in this mission to stop the Heartless on her own.