Rolo, the lazy weimaraner paced the floor of the Laboratory in a circle, sniffing for crumbs of food that the children may have left behind. Unfortunately, nothing this time. He was bored no doubt, but was more content in the comfort of his lab than the tree-top madness of Havpoi. The family took him there once when he was younger and he hated it. The swaying of the ground caused such nausea that he threw up multiple times. And the smells! Nothing smelled the same for more than a few minutes before the winds came through, bringing their own scents from far off lands.
Besides, the twin suns of Havpoi made his dark grey coat unbearably hot.
After exhausting all possible locations for food, Rolo climbed on his favorite divan and eyed the smaller Nexus on the opposite side of the Laboratory. Clara built it for Rolo to relieve himself whenever he wished. He merely had to approach this smaller Nexus, place his nose on the bright stone and the gateway to a lush sun-lit meadow would open before him. Every now and then a rabbit would appear in this world of eternal spring, and he would give such a chase. He would never catch it, but it was just enough exercise to allow him to eat whatever he wanted. Near the stream was a tree that dropped morsels of food that looked, smelled and tasted an awful lot like poultry or fish. The crystal clear water from the stream and the food from the tree were his primary source of nourishment, though it was nice to steal a piece of willowberry treat whenever the family came back from Havpoi.
While he loved his meadow, he decided he didn’t need to go and would take his fourth (maybe fifth?) nap of the day. Perhaps the wedding was cancelled and the family would come early? A dog can only dream…
Suddenly, the mechanism of the main Nexus sprang to life. Could this be true? They came back so soon? The wedding was cancelled? He leaped off the divan and stood anxiously as the generators powered up to form the gateway to Havpoi. Tail wildly wagging, Rolo took a few steps back and crouched down, waiting for the Nexus to form, and decided to rush to his masters to lick and smell and sniff and smell and..wait, where were they? This isn’t Havpoi…
The Nexus had formed but instead of the serene misty jungle clearing of Havpoi, a dimly lit corridor appeared. The walls were made of thick metal plates crudely assembled to each other with large rusty bolts. Every few meters, large curved girders were built along the walls, floor and ceiling as if to reinforce the structure from tremendous external pressure. Rolo sniffed the wet, dank air coming from this mysterious World, searching for clues. He could hear the sound of dripping water echoing throughout. Rolo could also hear the faint humming of some kind of machinery – similar to what his own Nexus sounded like when activated.
A loud metallic clang shot out from deep within and echoed throughout the entire hallway. What sounded like a heavy door creaked open from around an unseen corner, followed by the ponderous footsteps of someone, or something, of considerable dimensions. As the sound of these steps got louder, Rolo began to growl, cockles raised, teeth bearing.
This lumbering thing turned the corner and Rolo could see in full view what manner of beast was approaching the corridor. He recognized it immediately and instead of valiantly defending his home, he turned in his tracks and dove into his favorite hiding spot – behind a stack of blank Scrolls that Niven kept for the creation of new Worlds.
Finally, the creature reached the Nexus, crossed through it and started slowly scanning every detail of the Laboratory.
From a small opening within his hiding spot, Rolo was watching this eerily familiar intruder. Calling it a “robot” would be too kind, since “robot” describes an object endowed with at least a modicum of intelligence and the basics of aesthetic design. Standing just under three meters tall, this hulking machine was constructed of thick metal plates that seemed to have surrendered to decades of rust and decay. Its legs were thick rusty cylinders connected to the torso with a variety of hinges, swivels and pneumatic pistons. The body, which was nothing more than a large rusty cube, was able to rotate 360 degrees around its waist. Two massive arms were attached to shoulders but neither appendage had anything that resembled hands.
After a few moments its tiny head stopped scanning the room when it saw the Console. The machine then thrust the ends of both its stubby arms into holes in its torso. After a few seconds, it pulled them out to reveal delicate hand-like tools now securely attached to the ends of its arms.
A RunErrand! It was all coming back to Rolo. He remembered when Nevin and Clara built these things to take measurements or perform tasks on Worlds that were unsuitable for humans – or anything living for that matter. He wasn’t sure why his masters would ever create any environment that could kill them, but that was during a phase where the two were fascinated with extremes. Worlds of intense heat or cold, noxious atmospheres, crushing gravities, how horrible! But they stopped building such Worlds long time ago – before the children were born, even before Havpoi became a stable World. What was a RunErrand doing here? Where did it come from?
The robot lumbered over to the Console and turned several levers – seemingly at random – while the head spun around to view the Nexus behind it. No, please don’t do that, groaned Rolo. All those levers had to be set just right to keep Havpoi stable. What have you done?
After a few tries it came upon a lever that shut down the current Nexus. Satisfied with its work, the RunErrand moved slowly over to the far side of the Laboratory and turned its torso completely around to face the Nexus. Once again, it thrust its arms into its body and pulled out two bright red spheres where the delicate manipulators once were. Finally, in an astonishing move, it lowered itself on the ground, folded its legs into its torso, and quietly turned itself off.
Nearly twenty minutes passed, and the dog waited patiently for the RunErrand’s next move. Do I reveal my hiding spot and investigate? What are those red balls? Can I try to call for help without it noticing me? His collar had a Communicator built in to it. It was similar to what the rest of the family wore but was only used to locate the dog when he would go chasing rabbits in his sunny Meadow World.
Another twenty minutes crept by and Rolo was getting restless. Also, his stomach began rumbling as it most certainly was past his meal time. How he longed to be in the Meadow, frolicking in the grass. Unfortunately for him, the RunErrand decided to deactivate right in front of his smaller Nexus. That’s it, he thought, I’m going to be the brave one and step out there. Yes, I’m going to do it. Here I go!
And just as the brave canine placed his first step out of his hiding place, the generators of the Nexus sprung to life. Rolo yanked his paw back in the hiding space and watched as the RunErrand’s lights also blinked and rumbled as it woke.
Rolo laid down, paw over his snout. Oh no, what now?