The Good Specimen (Thick of Mind, Part 11)

Day 40. 64 pages, 30,290 words.


He sat as straight as he could and tried not to grimace as he swallowed the long strands of medicated nutrient. They always made him retch, but the doctors said it was very important that they feed through his system as unbroken as possible in order to balance the deposits of stimulant and genetic fortifying agent. He barely knew what half of these words meant.

He swallowed the last strand, and belched as politely as he could into his own sinus. The smell of it – the taste, there was no distinction – was like smoke and overripe fruit. They told him it was the sleeper medicines working their way out of his digestive and nervous system, as well as a physiological disorder that some of them called Lomgrem’s Lung and others called psycholomtaxia. Both meant the same thing – that his respiratory system was sick and he was breathing the sleeper medicine’s byproducts out of his body in a way he shouldn’t be. Neither Lomgrem’s Lung nor psycholomtaxia meant anything to him, and neither did the explanation.

Maladin knew little else but the three expansive chambers of the laboratory in which he lived. He knew his name was Maladin because that was what the doctors called him. They said he’d told them. But he didn’t remember that. He didn’t really remember much of anything, except for the painful stretch of time it had taken the doctors to wake him up, get him moving, teach him to walk and talk again.

The doctor on duty – Doctor Galhbron – studied him closely as he finished his combined meal and medicine.

“How do you feel?” she asked. “Ready? Strong?”

Maladin sometimes thought of his waking-up as a birth, but he knew there must have been more before that. For one, he could sort of remember things. Some things, and only very faintly and vaguely, but he didn’t think he’d just imagined them. He remembered running, and laughing, and he remembered blue sky and green trees and … and it all flitted away when he tried to focus on it.

He smiled back. “Strong,” he said. “Ready. Yes.”

For another, he did know some things. For example, when he recognised his Lomgrem’s Lung as producing tastes of smoke and fruit, those associations came from somewhere. He could speak Xidh, although the language he knew and the language the doctors spoke were apparently slightly different. He was learning the ‘modern’ variant quickly, along with a couple of the other main languages spoken by the Molren in the lab. He understood concepts, rules, behavioural cues without needing to be taught them. It was like he was being reminded of them, rediscovering ingrained reflexes he’d had all along. He didn’t think a newborn would take to life so quickly, although one of the doctors told him that Molren did develop such reflexes naturally fast, so it stood to reason that Bonshooni would as well.

Is that the thing that I am? Bonshooni?

The question had made the doctor uncomfortable, another thing Maladin had realised without needing to be taught. He’d corrected Maladin’s grammar – Bonshoon – and then changed the subject.

Maladin had seen himself in imagers and reflections, of course, so he knew he looked like the doctors. More or less … well, strictly speaking, more. The doctors were all tall and slender and delicate-looking, while Maladin – although still a child according to what they told him – was round and heavy, his limbs feeling clumsy and stumpy even though he had no basis for comparison.

He’d decided that until he learned otherwise, Molran and Bonshoon were just words for doctor and patient that he hadn’t known due to his language being slightly different. Or perhaps for adult and child. Sooner or later, he would find out.

“Alright,” Doctor Galhbron said, and helped him up. “Mobility good?”

Maladin walked on the spot and moved his arms in the spinning sequence of coordination exercises he’d been taught. There was some numbness and tingling in his limbs, and another fruity belch worked its way out of him, but he was otherwise fine.

“Good,” he reported, looking up at her with a casual smile to show how nonchalant and brave he was being. Doctor Galhbron rewarded him with a brief smile in response, then tapped in a sequence of metrics on her computer pad. It was important, Maladin knew, to take as many different readings as possible of his physiological state.

“Good,” she echoed crisply. “Are you ready to leave the laboratory for a brief excursion?”

“Yes,” Maladin replied, making sure not to answer too quickly or eagerly. Molren – doctors – preferred it when you maintained dignity and decorum. Never raising your voice, never getting angry or excited or agitated. It was difficult sometimes, especially when it hurt … but he didn’t think they blamed him then.

“Good,” Doctor Galhbron repeated. “We will be travelling along the main causeway to the docking blister, and from there onto a Fleet Worldship named the Pelindrake. Do you know what that means?”

Maladin thought about it. “That we will be leaving the ship containing this lab,” he said, “and boarding another ship, temporarily.”

He put just enough question in this last statement that Doctor Galhbron recognised the query. She nodded. “Yes, temporarily. Do you have any questions?”

“Will I be told beforehand if there is a process I need to adhere to, or something I need to do?”


“Then I have no questions at the moment.”

Doctor Galhbron smiled a rare second time.

“Good,” she said.


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
This entry was posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s