Day 42. 64 pages, 30,290 words.
The year was 3230 YM, they said, but he didn’t know what that meant. And if he didn’t know what it meant, he didn’t understand how they expected him to tell them what year it had been when he’d gone into the pod. He didn’t even remember a pod, except for the pictures they’d shown him. Pictures of a battered and dusty old thing, its mechanisms verdigrised with age … and a pallid and bloated thing lying inside it that they said was him, before they’d pulled him out and drained him off and cleansed him of the poisons that had kept him alive for far too long.
Still, he did his best to help the doctors. He was awake, which was slightly more than he could say for the other one he shared the laboratory with on a permanent basis. The other patient, or Bonshoon or whatever … there had been two of them at first – three, including Maladin – but now there was only one other.
While Maladin had exercised and taken the tests and learned to speak, those other two had just sat, or lay, in the positions the doctors last put them in, and said nothing. Sometimes they would scream when the doctors tried medicines or procedures on them that, it quickly became apparent, they were going to try on him next. The doctors never heard them scream, and – for the first few times, at least – didn’t listen to Maladin when he told them about it.
But the medicines and procedures that made the other two scream invariably also made Maladin scream, and those screams, the doctors could hear. Eventually they started to pay attention to him. It wasn’t as if he was simply balking at arbitrary things and concocting a bizarre story about those things making the others cry out. He was a child but he wasn’t a baby. There were far scarier-looking procedures, and horrible-seeming medicines, that didn’t make the others scream, and to these he always submitted without complaint.
If he was being realistic, it was only when one of the procedures made one of the others scream and then that other one died that the doctors stopped what they were doing and began to pay attention to his earnest claims. And even then, it seemed to him that several of the doctors stopped coming to visit, and were replaced with other ones. He wasn’t sure what significance to connect to that series of events, but one of the replacement doctors had been Doctor Galhbron, and he thought she was nice. So all in all it seemed to have been an improvement in his situation.
He followed her now, stepping out of the main door at the end of his little domain. A pair of black-clad doctors – no, these weren’t doctors of course, they were guards, soldiers … Molren? Maybe. He didn’t know – stood outside the doors, one on either side. They held sleek instruments of dark metal that he identified as weapons simply because he couldn’t imagine what else they could be. He had no idea what kind of weapons they were. He wasn’t sure what different kinds existed anyway, although he was dimly aware that they did.
The guards, impassive-faced behind their clear yellowish helmet visors, did not respond to their departure. As the doors closed behind him, Maladin glanced back and saw words printed on the smooth composite.
He’d learned, or re-learned, how to read in the short time since he’d last been permitted to leave the lab for a brief excursion. He recognised the words Biorelic Research Samples 1, 2 even though he didn’t entirely understand them, and was reasonably certain the more esoteric collection of markings underneath were warnings related to security, personal danger, required levels of clearance and authorisation, and a couple of other things he couldn’t identify but which had silhouettes of heads stuck through with alarming-looking red markings as if bolts of energy were escaping from their skulls.
He wondered, but didn’t ask, whether he was sample 1 or 2. He hoped, for no particular reason, that he was 1.
They continued through a series of corridors remarkable only for the fact that Maladin had only seen them on two other occasions, and did not remember them well from either. They were clean and sterile and undecorated, and at three further points they passed through doors on the opposite side of which stood more guards. Maladin read the labels on each door – Sentient sample groups, Organic (nonstandard) and Classified research wing, in outgoing order – and noted that the series of accompanying warning markers dwindled steadily as they went. The final set of guards did not even seem to be carrying weapons although they, like the others, did have an array of mysterious objects attached to their clothing, any one – or all – of which could have been dangerous. In each new corridor, moreover, they added one or two new doctors to their group. Some of them Maladin knew, and they greeted one another cordially. Others were unfamiliar to him, and simply stared at him in fascination and seemed shocked when he said hello.
Their growing team arrived at a larger and well-lit corridor that Maladin guessed was the main causeway, and followed it – passing several groups of doctors and guards and other people in different styles of dress – to a chamber where still more doctors waited. Some of them glanced at their group as they arrived, but most didn’t seem interested.
Doctor Galhbron leaned over to talk to him quietly while the large group milled politely in front of a large set of doors.
“We are about to enter the Fleet Worldship Pelindrake,” she said. “Up until this point, you have only seen Molren – people, that is, like myself. You should be aware that there are three distinct species of Molranoid, however: Molran, Blaran, and Bonshoon.”
“Bonshoon is the thing that I am,” Maladin said.
“Yes. You look a little different and your genetic history is diverged from the Molran baseline, but we are very similar. Blaren are similar as well, but they will often embellish their bodies, augment them with tools and decorations. It can be off-putting, even frightening.”
“There are several other species,” Doctor Galhbron went on, “that you might encounter on this visit although we have done our best to ensure minimal exposure. Of these, the three main ones are aki’Drednanth, Fergunakil and human. They are all quite different to Molranoids in appearance and disposition, but pose no threat to you. You will not be expected to interact with any of them on this occasion without our direct assistance.”
Doctor Galhbron studied him. “You are wondering, perhaps, why we did not tell you about this, or prepare you for what you are about to see. By showing you images, for example.”
Maladin shrugged. “I assumed that it was a test of my ability to adjust to unexpected data at short notice,” he said, “but you did not want to test it to too great an extreme, which is why you told me in general terms what to expect,” he thought Doctor Galhbron looked surprised – maybe even impressed – so he added, “I did ask if I would be told beforehand about any expectations, and you said I would. I assume this is one of those cases.”
“That is true,” Doctor Galhbron said. “Your logic is sound and your equanimity commendable.”
Doctor Galhbron was still looking at him in considering silence, and Maladin was unable to keep himself from beaming happily, as the docking blister doors opened and the crowd moved forward onto the Pelindrake.