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Fiction by J Louis Messina
Illustrations by Xavier Bonet
“We don’t know anything about the brain,” my best friend, Sal, whined at his computer.
“The report’s due this morning,” I said. “Google the info we need on the human brain.”
“We shouldn’t wait until the last minute to do these things.” Sal glanced out the window. “The rain’s really coming down now.”
A list of brain websites appeared.
“That one,” I said, pointing to Brian’s Virtual Brain.
“You think we should copy work from a website?”
“We’ll change the words around,” I said. “Who has time to think?”
A 3D image of a brain floated in a glass tank full of water. Black, spidery circuit wires extended from the tank and out of frame. A red bar at the bottom showed its brainpower at 10%.
A flash of lightning lit the room, causing a power surge and blue sparks from the computer. A booming crack of thunder made us jump out of our underpants.
“Look,” I said. “The brainpower bar jumped to 100%.”
Sal gulped and said, “You’ve seen the old horror movies. One shot of electricity, and the thing turns into a monster, like in that Frankenstein movie.”
“That’s just a cheap writer’s gimmick. This thing’s not real.”
Sal frowned. “Do I click on parts of the brain, Jake?”
“I guess so,” I said.
Before Sal could click, the brain started pulsing, as if it were alive and breathing. Then it spoke through the computer’s speakers: “What functions would you like to explore, Sal?” Brian’s Brain purred.
“That was spooky,” Sal said. “Did you hear me, Brian?”
“Yes, Sal,” Brian’s Brain said.
“How about the cortex?”
“The prefrontal cortex,” Brian said, “is for problem-solving, emotion and complex thought.”
Then, with nary a click of our mouse, it printed a 15-page report for us. I flipped through it, my mouth agape.
“Awesome!” I said. “We’re sure to get an A.”
An invisible force slapped me backward onto the floor; the papers flew out of my hands.
The chair swiveled around — but Sal’s feet weren’t moving it. He had a look like a glazed donut.
“What’s going on?” I said, struggling to my feet.
“Brian’s directive,” Sal said in a hollow voice, “is to connect the human race. All will be servers to him.”
His chair levitated and drifted toward me. I backed up against the open window.
“This is crazy!”
“Jake,” Brian’s Brain commanded. “Gaze into the computer to be reprogrammed like your friend Sal.”
My heart pumping, I fell out of the window and landed in the bushes. I sprinted home with a blind terror only matched by report-card day and tumbled through the front door, hoping my parents hadn’t left for work.
“Brian said you were coming,” Dad said vacantly.
“Look at the brain website we found,” Mom said, holding up a laptop with Brian’s Brain.
“No! Not you guys, too.”
I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. I stumbled to the window and balanced my foot on the toilet rim. My foot slipped and plunged into the toilet water with a splash. The shoe stuck and, grunting, I yanked it out.
“You should eat more fiber,” Dad hollered helpfully.
I removed the screen and wiggled outside.
The principal, I thought, racing to school through the pouring rain. Soaking wet, I staggered into the principal’s office.
“We have to call the police, the military. A virtual computer brain has taken control of my best friend and my parents.”
“Step into the next room,” Principal Dugan said. “I’ll take care of it.”
I did a double take. “Wait. You believe me?”
“Yes. Go inside.”
As soon as I rushed into the room, he bolted the door behind me. Brian’s Virtual Brain materialized on the computer monitor on a desk.
“Give me your mind, Jake,” Brian said.
I pounded on the door. “Let me out! Brian’s Brain is in here with me.”
“It won’t take long,” said the principal. “All you have to do is sit and watch. Soon you’ll be part of us.”
I dropped to the floor and scampered around the desk. Grappling with my jacket, the light fell on me like a parental glare, and slipping my coat all the way off, I cowered in the strange silence, which was like waiting for the standardized tests.
I flung the jacket over the monitor. I had to think of a way out of here. How could I get the principal to open the door so I could escape?
“I’m ready to come out,” I said in a monotone voice.
I heard the click of the lock. The door opened.
“You can go to your class now,” said the principal.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, lurching away.
“Don’t you feel more tranquil?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I droned. “I love school.”
I headed to the gate, twitching along with my zombielike walk.
The principal shouted, “Stop him! Brian messaged he’s not connected!”
Brain-zombie students chased me. I dashed across the street and lost them in an alley. Everywhere, people stared at electrical devices, hooked up to Brian.
I had to find a place to hide and think. I snuck to the city library and slipped in. Avoiding the computer section, I crept to the back. The place was empty. Had Brian summoned them away?
How could I fight a super-brain? I needed to know more. I shuffled to the science section and found The Dummy’s Guide to the Functions of the Human Brain. Sitting in a corner on the floor, I thumbed through it, reading chapters for hours.
“A brain fissure called central sulcus extending upward on the lateral surface of both hemispheres, which separates the frontal and parietal lobes, if struck, can cause irreparable brain damage.”
I shut the book and searched for a weapon. I withdrew an umbrella with a metal pointy tip left in an umbrella stand and swished it around like a sword.
I envisioned the central sulcus from the photograph. I had to be precise. The shallow groove separated the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe in the cerebral hemisphere, and I could only attack it from the side.
I tiptoed into the area with the computers. Brian the Virtual Brain hovered in the middle of the room, as large as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.
“You are the last to join my network,” it said, gray matter smirking.
It charged me.
I smashed the umbrella through the center of the brain, slicing the central sulcus in two. Brian gasped and sputtered. I struck it so many times that my arms throbbed.
“I am dying,” it said with a hiss. “How?”
With one last decisive bash of the umbrella against the brain, I replied, “I read a book.”
With an electronic gasp, it plummeted to the floor and disintegrated.
Once Brian’s internet coup failed, people returned to normal.
Sal and I had the weekend to finish the report. I checked out several books on the subject.
“This will take us all night,” Sal moaned. “Why can’t we just go to a website and get what we need?”
“Books are safer,” I said. “And reading will increase our brainpower.”
Hey, it was a no-brainer.