Building CommunIcation

About the author

Three of the people who played Exploration, which loosely inspired this story. From left to right: Chris Kanaar, Laura Kanaar (who didn’t play), Andy Weir, me. We were at an Escape Room in Fort Collins. Andy had a speaking engagement there and the other three of us went to hang out with him and his wife Ashley.

Building CommunIcation by Brendan ZaChary AllIson

“Hear hear! Think think!” Rene thought forcefully and the room went silent and thoughtless. “We found no way to make more fud. We will starve unless we can contact help. Clear your minds and prepare to hear the debate between Dr. Hfuhruhurr and High Priest Kalbfleischer. They will present their visions.”

Dr. Hfuhruhurr thought first. “I’ve been reconstructing the ancient database. As we suspected, our bodies endured an unnatural shift – ape to vat –”

“Heresy! How do we circulate blood, process fud and nitroxy, stay warm, connect with Our King?!”

“We had other organs… heart, stomach, uvula, Hammond B3… I can’t learn more without neuricles. We communicated with something called a parabolic antenna. It looks like the one on the Edenship. I can get it working, but we need to redirect all available neuricles to interpreting the instructions in the database. Then we can send a signal to our people.”

“We don’t need some ancient scribblings on hard drives,” replied Kaibfleischer. “We know what’s true from the book we found from our King. He said that the way to communicate through him was prayer. We must devote all available neuricles to prayer and King James will save us.”

“Enough debate!” thought Rene. “We must preserve our neuricles for the solution that we all choose, so don’t think too hard. Think your vote now.”

Author Commentary

I wrote a longer version of this story in the early 90s. We used to play a game called Exploration that featured a race called Theta-2s that were essentially furry brains that used little cars to get around. I wrote this short-short in March 2023.

The conflict between science and religion is central in a lot of fiction and nonfiction, and will remain prominent well into the future.

Rene is a shout-out to Rene Descartes.

My dad had a Hammond B3, which is a musical instrument called an organ. It was a joke here; the database is corrupted and so it’s realistic within this diegesis.

Dr. Hfuhruhurr was Steve Martin’s character in The Man with 2 Brains.

Dr, Kalbfleischer stems from Grey Matters, a good read from 1971. Kalbfleish also means Veal, a play on the “meatlessness” of these brains in vats.

The “shift ape” is a reference to Shift the Ape from The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.

They had a hard drive getting there! That was a stretch.


This is another story that’s quite far from reality. The idea of a “brain in a vat” is quite old, and remains popular today through The Matrices and other BCI – fi. Brains couldn’t survive in vats, let alone interact as they do in this story. We also don’t have space travel like portrayed here.

This story implies these are humans, but I left it fuzzy (like Theta-2s). Other species might have stomachs, hearts, and uvulas.


The ending is unresolved, like The Lady or The Tiger. Presumably, these aliens are all dead if they choose to divert their neuricles to prayer. Whether we should hope for their survival is another question. Maybe they deserve to be abandoned and alone; maybe their survival would hurt many others. In the older, longer version, they learn that the Edenship was a prison ship, raising more questions. Was their de-embodiment part of their punishment?

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