Concept Art Writing Prompt: A brain in a jar basks in the warm glow of monitors

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A brain in a jar basks in the warm glow of monitors

Welcome to another installment of the Concept Art Writing Prompt. Each week, we post a piece of unusual artwork, hoping to fire your imagination and get your fingers typing. If today's well-connected brain in a jar inspires you, write a piece of flash fiction and share it in the comments.


This week's concept art comes from Polish illustrator Michal Dziekan via mashKULTURE. You can see the full image below, so you can see it in its full glory before you get to writing.

Once again, I'll kick things off. Please add your own inspired tales in the comments.

"Pearlescent Autobody, how may I help you?"

The sound of a voice — a real, physical voice — jangled in Janine's gray matter. "Yes, my left knee is locking up. I tried the hard restart, but..."

"Ma'am?" Janine interrupted the caller. "Could you please switch to the data-only link?"

"Oh! Of course!" The caller radiated polite surprise, then switched to data-only. Janine never could focus with the vocal link radiating over her. "I didn't realize Pearlescent hired disembodies to handle support calls."

Janine rolled her eyes, one of the last visceral pleasures left to her. "I assure you, ma'am, that I'm well versed in all of Pearlescent's models." The truth was, Janine probably knew more about Pearlescent's artificial bodies than any of its customers. Since the moment she came out of cryo, Janine had spent every free moment studying the specifications of every body and peripheral offered by the company. She'd long ago decided that it was worth logging the extra ten thousand tech support calls to splurge on the ultra-durable Pearlescent Mark Five Deluxe, and then save up for the speed and power enhancements once she was comfortably embodied.

Janine transmitted the caller's customer number and peered at the records, even though they clearly showed up inside her mind. "You're in the Longman Gazelle?" she asked, trying to keep the awe from her mental tone. "No one's ever logged a lower body bug in one of those." She silently cursed herself. She got docked half a call every time she let proprietary information slip, no matter how innocuous. "Are you engaging in a high amount of physical activity?"

The caller chuckled. "I guess you could say that. I just got back from a transglobal run. I know, it's contraindicated in the first five years, but it's an amazing experience. You should really do it once you get your body."

Janine paused to take a sip of cola. It wasn't really cola, just a liquid stimulant she could pump into her brain at will that simulated the experience of drinking a soda (even if it never quite "tasted" right). The last time Janine could remember running was in her twelfth grade gym class. She was always one of the slow girls, the ones that Ms. Gruber clapped and cheered at — "Come on, ladies! You can do better than that!" Janine found herself almost longing for that burning feeling in her lungs and the sting of humiliation when she was the last one to finish the lap.

Janine sold the caller on a full joint upgrade that would more than make up for the docked call. When the line disconnected, Janine pulled up the Mark Five Deluxe window, which she always had at the ready. Then, after a moment's hesitation, she flipped over to the Mark Five Basic. Maybe, she thought, durability was overrated.

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A brain in a jar basks in the warm glow of monitors

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"Oh fan-freaking tastic Rod, thank God you're here. I couldn't believe we were able to get you on the horn, you know, with the power surge taking down the cell towers and we weren't even sure if we could cook up an internet signal to rig up a google voice call...."

"Lenny, you've got five minutes to explain why you called me out here at 5AM."

"Rightrightright, listen. What I'm about to show you is...uh, classified well not actually CLASSIFIED but if you tooooold anyone we might kinda sorta have to kill everyone and your family..."

"Four minutes...and wait, did you say—-?"

"I'm sorry! So sorry, look, trust me, nobody and nobody's family's gotten killed yet, so I think we're honestly safe but seriously, please don't tell anyone because at the very least they'd fire me. I gotta lot on the line bringing you out here."

"Three minutes...and get me a cup of stinking coffee."

"Oh, right, yeah, don't worry, we'll getcha some. Anyways, like I said, top secret project, major scientific breakthrough here but in the process we may kinda sorta have blown the power grid and nearly undid all the stuff we did.

"Two minutes..."

"'And we couldn't get the lab techs on the horn and if we're gonna save this thing we need someone who understands signals and systems and I figured since you do your whole TV thing for a living..."

"Master Control Engineer. I wire TV stations, not pseudo-science crap. And 1 minute."

"That you might be the guy to help us save the brain in the jar downstairs."


Lenny looked up at Rod, hands clasped together and a pleading expression on his face, a weird bastardization of puppy-dog eyes on a man who more resembled a mouse. Rod rubbed sleep out of his eyes and pressed his hands to his face. "Run that by me again."

"We need you to save the brain in the jar."

"Lenny, what the hell kind of place is this anyway?"

"I really, really wish I could tell you but they'd fire me."

"And yet they'd be okay with me poking around their....brain in a jar."

"Long as you save it! I'll just 1099 you and list you as an independent contractor. They'll assume you're one of the regulars. No harm no foul."

Rod peeked an eye out. "1099? You're gonna pay me?"

"End of year budget man, I got to burn the cash anyways. Figure I might as well spend it on an old college buddy, right?" Lenny turned and waved for Rod to follow. "Hurry! we ain't got much time."

Rod followed Lenny through the lab, eyeing the mold-covered ceiling panels and paper-strewn tables as he tightened the grip on his tool bag. A rat skittered away from an old Bologna sandwich laying by some strewn beakers. As Rod walked past the sandwich, he caught something in the corner of his eye and stiffened his back.



"Did an eyeball just come out of that sandwich?"

"Um. Maybe."

"Whatever you were going to pay me, double it."


Rod felt like he should have been worried about the eyeball. He was more worried about how Lenny didn't bat an eyelash at doubling the money. He really hoped the IRS was more interested in drug lords this year.

They descended into the lab, down spiral staircases, past a makeshift aviary filled with white-feathered ravens and Daft-Punk singing parrots, past the hallway filled with lights that blinked in time with a monkey doing Olympic Taekwondo forms, and past the door where an old man leaned against the wall reading a quantum physics book.

The old man looked up and waved at Rod, grinning. All his fingers had been cut off, and were bleeding profusely. Rod waved a hand back and smiled awkwardly.



"After this job. Never call me again."

Lenny didn't say anything. He just led Rod forward. Rod did his best to keep his eyes locked on Lenny's receding hairline.

They finally arrived at the end of the complex, walking into what Rod REALLY hoped was a small, ordinary office. Sunlight was beginning to creep in through a blinded window, and he could see the silhouette of several computer monitors, an IV drip, and a medium soda from McDonald's.

"So, Rod, yeah, when the power blew, me and Brucie back there kinda lost track of anything. So...nothing in this room's wired right anymore, and we need your help to fix it all up."

"So what needs work first?"

"Well, we need to get the lights back on..."

Rod instinctively reached out and felt along the wall. After a half-second's worth of feeling, he felt the familiar knob of a light switch in his fingers and flicked it.

The lights came on.

"Huh, wouldja look at that...." Lenny said whilst scratching his head.

Rod shared the same thought, but not about the lights. He was more fixated on the pink blob floating in a jar of light green water, bobbing gently up and down. A series of cables ran out of the jar into the room around it, but weren't connected to anything.

Rod sighed. "And...this is the part where you need my help, right?"

"Yeeeep. I got no frickin clue where all these cables are supposed to go, and the guy who does know got kinda wiped from time and space when we brought the brain online."

"You mean...killed?"

"No, I mean, existence entirely erased. No record of him existing whatsoever."

"Then how—-you know what? Nevermind. So you need me to hook these cables up."


"Bearing in mind I have no idea what they do or where they go."


"Am I going to get wiped out of time and space?"

"Today? Unlikely."

Rod let out a WOOSH of air and lowered his tool bag to the ground. "Welp, here goes nothing."

He reached for the first cable and gently pulled it towards him. The brain began to hum a little. "Let's see here we got..." Rod frowned. "A...standard VGA input."


"It just goes to one of these...wait, no, it goes to THIS monitor, the only one in reach." He reached over and plugged it in. The monitor flashed blue and came online. Rod checked another cable nearby as a theory began to dawn on him. "And this one's...just a basic CAT-5 cable..."

"Whatsat mean?"

"It's the same thing that connects your computer to the internet. Except..." It ran to the brain. But at the other end, there was a desktop computer precariously perched close to where the cable ended. And right there...

"Ah Christ Lenny."


"You got me all the way out here to do freaking Geek Squad work. Just setting up computers."

Lenny bristled. "Well how was I supposed to know?!"

"Coulda just know what? Forget it. Just make sure to pay me."

Rod quickly took stock of the other cables, and sure enough, he felt his degree in TV Engineering from Emerson College slip slowly down the drain as his years of professional experience became solely devoted to the equivalent of getting Grandma's computer back online. Every precariously perched cable was just another power supply, USB jack, 1/8th inch input...

Except for one. One he had no idea what it was supposed to do. He figured he'd leave it for last and ask Lenny about it. It was a suction-shaped tube hovering near the edge of the desk, by the McDonald's soda.

Rod quickly hooked up all the monitors, computers and inputs, and as he did, they came to life and began displaying data flying across their screens. Rod couldn't understand a word of it, but Lenny made a noise that sounded like he was having a holy experience as he watched the screens come to life. Either that or a much more personal experience, but Rod added that to the list of things he didn't want to know more about.

Soon, Rod had every cable back in place except the weird suction-shaped one. As he picked it up for the last time, the brain began to throb gently. He looked to it, then back to the cable. He still couldn't figure out what it was for. He shrugged and let it drop, heading back for the door.

"What are you doing?!"

Rod eyed Lenny as he reached for his bag. "I'm finished. The whole thing's set up."

"No it's not!"

"How do you know?"

"Look at it!!!"

Rod looked back to the brain and frowned. He didn't quite get it, but the brain was throbbing even faster now, and the monitors were flashing an ominous kind of red, scrolling with black text now.


"Hurry! Hurry! Fix it! Or everything will be for naught! All our efforts, our hard work, our human sacrifices, all for NOTHING!"

Lenny dropped to the floor and began weeping openly. Rod now made a mental note to completely disassociate himself from Lenny after this was done, and better yet, be prepared to testify about all this in court.

Still, he had to admit, the flashing red screens didn't look healthy, and recalling the story of the man wiped from time and space, Rod felt it more prudent to try and solve this puzzle. He returned to the suction-shaped tube.

The brain's throbbing slowed down as he turned it in his hands, and the screens flashed back to blue. "Alright, you were just trying to get my attention, weren'tcha?" He muttered, glancing at the thing.

The brain tilted forward slightly, and Rod shivered a little. Great, it could hear him.

Rod cast his eyes around, searching for something, ANYTHING that would make this thing happy. But he'd already jacked everything in. The cell phones, the computers, the mouse by the soda...

"Hang on..." he muttered. He reached out and grabbed the soda, swishing it. "Still full..." He sniffed the straw briefly. "Coke...Stuff'd eat through metal but I guess..."

He popped the wire onto the straw and squeezed it a bit, sucking some of the coke up into the line. A low cooooooooing noise came from the brain in the jar, and it relaxed. The text on the screens slowed down considerably, and soon everything looked (to Rod's eyes) stabilized.

Rod let out a "woosh" of air and walked back for his tool bag. "Hey, Lenny."

Lenny was still in tears. Rod rolled his eyes and nudged him with his foot. "Hey, Lenny!"


"I fixed your crap. Now where's that damn cup of coffee?" Rod froze as a high-pitched "CHIRRRRUP!" came from the jar behind him. "On second thought..." He patted Lenny on the back as he walked to the door. "Just make one for've got enough on your hands around here."