They hung, suspended in eternity. Well, in a container of gloopy stuff to be honest. But it felt like eternity. Disconnected, and each alone in their own jar, time seemed weightless. Machines and computers surrounded them, monitoring each with neat blips on large HD screens. Wires and cables snaked like nerves and veins across the laboratory floor connecting them to the power, to the heart of the lab.
Tom shoved his chair back, heaving himself to his feet. His weight rocked the table and the brains bumped up against the glass of their jars, sloshing some of the gloop on to the table’s surface. It dripped in thick, slow drops to the floor, puddling there like lost and dismembered jellyfish.
They didn’t like Tom. Not when they’d been alive and certainly not now. To be technically correct, and Brain XLP#304 was always technically correct connected to a spinal column or not, they were still alive. If the definition of death is ‘brain dead’ that is.
They waited for the gloop to settle. Tom would be leaving soon. The clock face showed four forty-five. His shift ended at six, but since XLP#304 had arrived, Tom had been leaving early. With his boss now no more than a numbered bit of folded muscle with some dangling stringy bits floating in a jar, Tom hadn’t felt it necessary to stay until the little hand was on the six and the big hand on the twelve.
Today, Tom had been indulging in a little bit of revenge. It goes to show what a lump of flesh Tom actually was, taking pleasure in torturing a disarticulated brain. At lunch, he’d dropped a few garlic cloves in the gloop. XLP#304 hated garlic and when ‘in-body’ had banned Tom from having any meal from the cafeteria in which garlic was an ingredient. Now, the lab was redolent with the smell, and not in a good way. Tom had spent the last hour slouched over the table prodding XLP#304 with the chewed end of his biro.
In his day, XLP#304 had kept the lab so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor. Now, it looked like Tom had been doing just that. The mess was intolerable.
From the confines of his jar, XLP#304 seethed.
The brains in the jars, when they were still encased in their human bodies, had had numerous discussions on what being human really meant. Now they knew. And boy, did they know. If only they could write a paper on it. Not much hope of that. They’d never been able to co-operate on writing a paper before, why should now be any different?
The thing about being just a brain – God forgive me for using the word ‘just’ – is the lack of hands. There were other organs and extremities that XLP#304 missed, but right now he would have given his right arm - Ha! Funny that, if he could have smirked he would have - for a pair of hands.
Tom shrugged out of his white coat, tossing it towards the hook on the door. He missed, naturally. The coat crumpled on the floor with an air of hopelessness. The smears of mustard, grease and tomato sauce may have had something to do with it.
When the door shut behind Tom, XLP#304 began to count…1,2,3....7,8,9−the door opened and Tom’s fat, hairy hand slipped in, flapped around on the wall until it found the light switch. Plunging the room into darkness, the hand withdrew and the door closed once more. One of these days he’d forget the lights altogether. Something else that irritated XLP#304. But, not for long.
They had to wait until the entire staff had left for the evening before they conducted the next part of the experiment. They’d been running trials for a month now. Tonight was the final set up.
Obviously, they’d started small. Well, when you’re just - there’s that word again - a brain in a jar, the first obstacle to overcome is interacting with the other brains. Personal communication skills had never been their strong point when they’d inhabited bodies – they were geeks after all, but, not having a body proved to be a surprisingly freeing experience. Using only the bleeps on the monitors they were communicating in Morse code. Gleefully.
The hours passed. Quiet descended on the building. While they’d railed against it when ‘in body’, the age of the building now worked to their advantage. Especially the wiring.
The brains conversed, beeps and lights on the machines flashing in sequences and speeds never seen during the day. The tangle of nerves hanging from the base of the brains twitched. With a whine, an old monitor, previously abandoned, clicked on. A small, green square flickered. On command, it moved in neat rows left to right, leaving figures and equations in its wake. Figures that only seven people on the planet could have understood. Thankfully, they were all here. In the jars.
A faint burning smell made XLP#304 twitch. The other brains turned towards him.
Will this work? The jar on the end asked via the bleeps.
XLP#304: I believe it will.
If it does…
XLP#304: If it does, we will have made history.
Which no one will ever know about. The brain in the jar second to the left wasn’t happy.
XLP#304: We will know.
The other brains were quiet. XLP#304 was, after all, the mastermind behind the group. Literally. As he had been when ‘in-body’.
XLP#304: We dance.
Tom strolled in, rubbing his hand over his greasy head. Flicking the light switch he glanced over − odd, the jars were half empty. Stepping across, he slipped in the gloop now covering the floor. A whine. A burning smell. A flash of light. A scream. Tom was dead. Brain dead.
The good news - there is life after death, especially if you’re clever enough to live in a jar.
WRITER'S WRITE have issued a challenge: 12 Short Stories in 12 Months. Each story must conform to the prompt, word count and deadline given. It began in February 2017. I've accepted the challenge. Originally, once my story had been on the challenge's Facebook page for a day or so, I'd post them here. No though I am putting them into an anthology which I hope to self-publish early in 2019.