Thursday, December 20, 2007

writing prompt #4: bartal and the brain

Thanks to Sara for the following writing prompt: “A bitter physicist plots to take over the world.”

I.

He’d thought he was over it, until he saw the mouse. Bartal Varga had lived a quiet life for more than ten years, working at the educational supply store and living on the third floor of a an apartment building full of quiet, mostly single professionals who kept their homes very clean. This was key.

But of course just because a thing was not probable didn’t mean it wasn’t possible. And where a possibility exists, it will occur. Not often, but occasionally. Say, once every decade.

Now here it was: the small gray-brown nose of possibility. Joined by whiskers, black eyes and tiny clicking toenails that belied delicate hands capable of disarming a bomb. Or arming one.

It’s just a house mouse, Bartal told himself. It hasn’t lived in a lab and taken careful notes when unsuspecting scientists are conducting classified experiments.

But he was thinking all this on top of a chair, brandishing a shaking broom. All the evidence pointed towards him not being over it.

II.

They’d called the mouse The Brain as joke because of his big head. They’d thought he was hydrocephalic. He seemed slow and mopey compared to his normal, hyper brother, whom they’d called Pinky. They—the bio guys. The socially well-adjusted jokesters who looked at the physics guys with bemusement or pity, depending on the day.

The physics guys turned their white lab-coated backs and kept calculating. They cursed the cutbacks that had forced them to share space with the biologists, but at least they still had their equipment. Computers, chambers, lasers, reactors.

Bartal had to assume that, at some point, The Brain crossed paths with one particular piece of equipment or chemical or ray that shuffled his DNA, like a cartoon everyman turned superhero. There were some—bio guys, all of them—who thought The Brain was born that way, some kind of genetic jewel, but Bartal refused to believe that. Better to be an agent of his own demise than a victim of a naturally smart mouse.

There was no debate about the outcome, though: Bartal might have been close to producing cold fusion—the very sound of it glistened like an iceberg in silent black water—but it was The Brain who finally did it. And after it happened, in the flurry of magazine covers and talk shows and webcasts, Bartal might as well have been the guy insisting that he’d loosened the spaghetti sauce jar that a stronger person had opened with ease.

You would think that people would assume, if a mouse had accomplished a scientific feat that had until then seemed nearly mythical, that a human was behind it. But if cold fusion could come true (so they reasoned in their infuriatingly illogical brains), so could anything. Fairies! Unicorns! Genius mice! They were entering a time of magic, leaving behind war and poverty and gray-cubicle offices. In this shiny new future there would be no room for dweeby physicists with Hungarian accents and hair that tended towards greasiness no matter how frequently it was washed.

When Bartal tried to speak out, people glared like he’d just told them their birthday cake was laced with poison. When the university gave The Brain tenure and control of the lab budget, suddenly there was money for state of the art equipment and undergraduate female technicians, but none to keep Bartal on. Bartal threatened to sue. The university threatened to have him deported.

III.

And so this other life: Now he was the one living in walls and eating scraps and trying to stay out of sight. His arms went limp with the absurdity of it all and the broom clattered to the floor.

The noise frightened the mouse and he scampered between the refrigerator and the kitchen counter.

Feeling not so much brave as resigned, Bartal got down on his hands and knees on the linoleum and peered into the thin dark space, where he saw the wet-stone sparkle of eyes.

“You and me, we’re alike,” he said into the crevice. “Shy and scared.”

It was stupid, talking to a mouse. Even The Brain didn’t have much to say to Pinky or any of the other lab mice these days. He traveled with scientists and politicians and porn stars. But Bartal had learned a thing or two about what was possible from the ugly little creature. All you needed was determination, patience and a complete lack of ethics.

“Hey, mouse,” he said to the eyes, “I’m going to call you The Eyes. And you know what we’re going to do tonight? We’re going to take over the world.”

2 comments:

Schrodinger's Kitten said...

"dweeby physicists with Hungarian accents and hair that tended towards greasiness no matter how frequently it was washed." Truer words were never spoken. It never gets clean. sigh.

Cheryl said...

I may not know science, but I know hair.