A Brain in a Jar
A short story by Connor "Cratmang" Gilhuly
At first, there was nothing. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I felt nothing but the strange liquid which I was submerged in.
Then, there was white noise.
At last, I could see. I saw a human brain preserved in a jar filled with a translucent green liquid. On top of it sat a camera, pointed directly at me. I stared at the grotesque sight for a moment.
I turned, in order to get a better look at my surroundings, but I noticed that the camera had also begun to turn. I stared back at the camera, and it focused directly at me. I tried to tilt my head to the left. The camera strained to do the same.
It became clear to me, I was looking into a mirror. The brain in the jar was my brain, and I was looking through the camera.
I tried to scream, but I had no mouth. The only thing I could do was look. In my thoughts, I prayed that this was only a terrible nightmare, and that I would soon wake up in my bed.
I turned my camera, and tried to get a better understanding of the room I had awoken in. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all made of some kind of metal. Small, glowing blue spores floated around the room. My jar rested on top of a table, and various strange parts and tools, most of which I don’t believe I had ever seen, lay scattered around me. The room seemed to be dimly lit, but I couldn’t identify any source of light, and I could tell by looking in the mirror that there was no light attached to my camera.
In the faint darkness, I made out a grotesque creature with six legs, crab claws, and bat wings. It was toying with a contraption over a work station.
The creature turned, and I saw what could only pass as its face. It had only one eye; where its other eye would have been, a stalk grew outward, like a reed. Its head was covered with growths like this one, and at the end of each one sat a ball of blue light, much like the spores floating about the room. Its eye was wide and narrow, and it seemed to glow a strange, blue light. Its mouth was probably the most uncomforting to look at -- a series of holes across its face, reminiscent of a snowman.
In its right claw, it carried what appeared to be a pair of speakers. It stepped toward me. All I could do was watch. The closer it came, the more I wanted to scream. What did this strange creature want with me?
It placed the speakers on top of my camera.
There was a buzzing sound, like someone turned on a television.
“-- and now you should be able to hear your surroundings,” said the creature, in strange, raspy voice.
The creature returned to its workstation. Still feeling uneasy, I continued looking around the room. I swiveled the camera around, and looked out a nearby window. A cityscape of strange, alien architecture stretched as far as I could see. Towers and bridges that connected them. Above, a night sky, filled with many stars, more than I could ever imagine seeing.
The creature continued speaking, “You’re probably wondering where exactly you are. Your kind identifies this planet as Pluto, the farthest planet from the sun. We refer to it as Yuggoth, the home planet of our people.”
“For as long as humans have existed, we have been studying them very closely. You have stuck out as a very curious species. Your traditions. Your methods of communications. Your values. They’re all quite strange to us.”
“Sometimes, but not often, humans such as yourself are taken back to our home planet. We accomplish this by removing the human’s brain from the body, and placing it in a container like the one you’re in now. It is much easier to transport and contain a brain than it is a whole specimen.”
“Now please give me a moment,” it said as it fiddled with various bits at its work station. “I am working on your ‘mouth’ as I speak.”
“... and that is the Fermi paradox in a nutshell,” I concluded as I put down the chalk. “Class dismissed.”
At once, the students began packing their bags, and making their way out of the lecture hall. I sat down at my desk, and began sorting my notes.
Two of the students, two girls, remained, comparing notes. I recognized them; Melissa and Meqissa. They were roommates, I had learned, and they had gotten particularly close. Meqissa, however, was a very strange girl. She spoke in a monotone, and sometimes had trouble identifying emotions. She had a rather inquisitive personality, always asking all sorts of questions, ranging from “How was your day?” to “What’s the purpose behind what you’re doing?” Talking to her was uncomfortable at times. As a student, however, she was very intelligent. Answers to mathematical and scientific questions came to her as easily as breathing. She once told me before that she was only attending this institution because her scores simply weren’t high enough to be accepted into a college in her hometown; if she was passing tests and quizzes effortlessly, I shuddered to imagine what the people of her hometown are like.
Meqissa and Melissa were whispering to one another, but I could tell they were having an argument. Melissa finally got up, and walked over to me. “Professor,” she asked, “do you really think that aliens exist?”
“Well, I like to think so. After all, it would be quite a shame if we were truly alone in the universe, wouldn’t it?”
I smiled. She tried to smile back, but something was clearly troubling her. “But... you don’t think there are aliens... living among us, do you?”
I laughed. “If that’s true, don’t you think we would have made contact with them by now?”
She chuckled a little. “Yeah, I... guess you’re right.” She returned to her seat.
A few minutes later, Melissa and Meqissa had both left. I sat alone in the hall, looking over my notes, and thinking over Melissa’s question. For a moment, I wondered if she was getting at something. But I quickly dismissed it. Surely, I thought, it would be completely ridiculous for aliens to be living right under our noses.
“Once I turn this knob, you should be able to speak,” the creature stated.
I felt a slight jolt.
“Now, tell me your name.”
A small radio installed at the base of my container managed to stutter in my voice, and then blurt out my name.
“Excellent,” the creature said. It picked up my container and carried me onto a small, hovering platform. The creature grabbed hold of it and pushed, like a cart.
We exited the room, and came into a dimly-lit hallway. The blue spores from before were still commonplace.
Not a single sound came out of my radio; I had no idea what to say, or even if I was expected to speak.
Soon, we came across another alien creature, only unlike my caretaker, this one had no face whatsoever. Its head was simply covered with stalks of growth, each one growing blue at the end. A gasp of terror escaped my radio.
This new creature emitted a series of what I could only identify as unintelligible, undecipherable sounds, whilst tapping my prison with its crab-like claw. My brain detected the tremors in the jar’s fluid. The various devices connected to me halted in function for a brief second. I felt like I was nothing but a toy to these creatures.
My caretaker began blurting out similar sounds, threatening my harasser with its own claw. Eventually, it shot out a few last remarks, and crawled away.
I came across Meqissa in the library. She had found a collection of tales written by Lovecraft, an author famous for his horror stories about things unknown. She was occupied with one of the tales inside: “The Whisperer in Darkness”, to be precise.
“A fellow Lovecraftian, I see.”
She looked up, seemingly unsurprised by my presence. “You could say that,” she responded in her usual monotone.
“I don’t blame you,” I said, “Lovecraft was very widely renowned for his stories, and the universe they created.”
“What I’m curious about is how he managed to dig up the information for these stories.”
I stared at her. Information? “Who knows?” I finally said. “All I can assume was that he had a very active imagination.”
“Yes...” She turned a page, “perhaps he did make up many of the details... But there’s just too many coincidences to brush it off as purely a work of his imagination.”
Coincidences? Was Meqissa interpreting these stories as real-life accounts? That would be rather troublesome, I thought. No sane person could believe that entities such as Cthulhu and Yog-sothoth were real, and sleeping here on Earth, or that races such as the Mi-go actually existed. Clearly, this girl, despite her intelligence, was delusional.
Meqissa noticed my silence. “Does something trouble you?”
“N-n-no,” I stuttered. “Ha-have you thought about seeing a doctor?”
“I have a personal doctor. He says I am perfectly fine.”
“Might I ask the name of your doctor?”
“Do you doubt his opinion?”
For a moment, I said nothing. For some reason, perhaps out of my good manners, I couldn’t bring myself to outright state that I thought Meqissa was crazy. So I tried a different approach. “Perhaps you could enlighten me in how you were introduced to Lovecraft’s work?”
Meqissa stared into the distance, thinking. “I studied these works in my hometown,” she stated. “I noticed that the creatures they described shared... Many similarities to... Things I’ve seen.” I could tell that she was choosing her words very carefully.
I asked her to elaborate on what “things” she’s seen.
“I... I’ve said enough.” She closed her book and made her way out of the library.
I asked her again for her doctor.
She didn’t respond.
That night, I received a phone call.
“I am Meqissa’s personal doctor,” said a raspy voice on the other side of the line. “I understand you wish to schedule an appointment with me.”
“I do. But how did you get my nu--”
“Come by my address this Friday afternoon. I would be glad to discuss my credentials, and answer any questions you have about Meqissa.”
“I’m glad that you’re willing to discuss Meqissa with me, but I would very much like to know how exactly you got my phone--”
“Excellent. Here’s my address; I suggest you write it down...”
The room was larger than most libraries I’ve seen on Earth. It was easy to see why; those bat-winged, crab-clawed creatures were flying all about, from shelf to shelf, grabbing tools and equipment, shooting out screeches and gurgles at each other. Most of the creatures were faceless, but some wore a passable attempt at a face, with two eyes and a series of holes for a mouth. Some faces had a growth in place of one of their eyes, similar to my caretaker. Some had just a mouth, surrounded by growths. Some had just a large, solitary eye.
They all flew about while carrying and tending to various brains in jars, like me. Some brains had as many gadgets and sensors attached to them as I did. Others had only a camera, or ears, or nothing at all. Some brains even appeared to be frozen. I felt my own brain shiver. If I had a heartbeat, I imagine it would be skyrocketing right now. Just what were these creatures doing with us?
“You do not have anything to fear, Professor,” my caretaker said. “You are only here to learn. Not for experimentation.”
Despite its reassurances, I didn’t at all feel any less intimidated. The spores flying about the room occasionally bounced against my camera, obscuring my vision. Some of the creatures carried objects resembling chainsaws, pickaxes, and needles. They were all made of metals not seen on Earth. A few of the creatures were even attempting to stab each other. One unfortunate creature made an irritating shriek before another went and chopped its head off. The decapitated head rolled past, releasing glowing spores as it went.
One no-faced creature stared at me carrying what appeared to be a tablet and pen, but the pen emitted a trail of light over the tablet, which the creature used to write and draw what I assumed to be notes and sketches. It made a few shrieks and gurgles toward my caretaker, who responded in a similar manner. It glanced my way again, and resumed its work.
We passed the crowd, and made our way to a single door labeled with an unknown glowing writing. The metal door almost blended in with the wall surrounding it, and I’m sure it would have been difficult to find if not for the sign and the large handle sticking out.
My caretaker opened the door, and pushed my platform inside. The room appeared much darker than outside, though I knew it was because the metal that made up the walls and ceiling of this room was darker than that of the laboratory we just passed through.
There was a large stone desk, the center of which I was placed on. Looking straight ahead, I saw again the alien skyline that, for all I knew, could have covered the entire planet. My caretaker crawled around and positioned itself in front of me. It stretched its legs, lowering its body until it was nestled nicely on a cushion on the floor (This, aside from the camera which allowed me to see outside my jar, was perhaps the one and only thing I was able to fully identify on this planet).
“Now that we finally have our privacy,” the caretaker said, “shall we proceed to our appointment?”
I realized only now that the caretaker’s voice also belonged to Meqissa’s doctor, the strange man that had called me on the phone.
My radio crackled, and I spoke, hesitantly, “Y-y-you reduced me to a brain in a jar... just so that we could talk?”
“If we had talked on Earth, you wouldn’t have believed me, and you most certainly would have called your sorry excuse for authorities when I removed my disguise.”
“That’s... probably exactly what I’d do.”
“Now that you’ve seen us, and our planet, you most likely wish for an explanation. Our people are known as the ‘Mi-go’. We are a race of very... devoted... scientists. Occasionally, we send operatives to Earth under the guise of humans, in order to study them in the field, or confirm any knowledge they might have of the universe beyond the atmosphere they breathe. One of these operatives claims that you were becoming a bother. That you were asking too many questions, and that they didn’t know how to answer. I deemed that the best option was to bring you here.”
“Who is this... operative?” I stuttered, but as my question came out, I already knew the answer.
“They are living as a student at your educational institute,” the caretaker answered, “you should recognize them as Meqissa. They are my child.”