Morgan-Thurible Laboratories: A Love Story

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A legend about small red things that live in boxes, shown to you in the deepness of the night.

Steve and Ellen work at Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

Every day, they drive in around 9. They park their cars. They go into the building and assist Drs. Morgan and Thurible with various scientific projects.

They would like to be in love.

ADVICE FROM A MENTOR

Ellen is chatting with Dr. Thurible as she and the doctor manipulate a tiny ball of superheated superdense plasma with waldoes.

“I think I should fall in love,” Ellen says.

“I’m taken,” Dr. Thurible observes.

Dr. Thurible is an old man with a strong frame and a shockingly white beard. He’s wearing a white coat and a gold ring and also clothing. He’s the genius behind miscellaneous balls of superheated superdense plasma, so if you’re excited about superdense plasmatics, it’s worth reading his papers.

“Not you,” Ellen says.

She manipulates the plasma, causing it to radiate at a different frequency.

“Actually,” she says, “I was thinking of Steve.”

“Hm,” says Dr. Thurible.

“Hm?”

“He’s got a good smile,” Dr. Thurible concedes. “But you need more than a good smile to justify falling in love.”

“He’s very enthusiastic about things,” Ellen says.

“Hmmmm.”

Dr. Thurible gives the noise some extra ms, coughs once, and then applies additional voltage to the plasma. The effects of this are, at best, incidental to the narrative.

“I was kind of hoping,” Ellen says, “that you’d encourage me. Using your ancient wisdom!”

Dr. Thurible puffs out his cheeks. He thinks about this.

“Love is a plasma,” he says.

Ellen beams at him, feeling suddenly optimistic, but later she realizes that the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution is peculiarly inapplicable to what she wants to do.

PATRIOTISM

Steve looks at Ellen’s car one day after work.

It has a “Support the Troops” magnetic sticker on it.

He thinks, “That’s pretty cool. She supports the troops. She’s a pretty cool person.”

So he walks to his own car, humming, and thinking about that.

The next day he parks and she’s parking too, so he walks up, and she’s getting out of her car, and she’s taking the magnetic sticker off.

He kind of blinks at that and says, “Huh?”

Ellen glances at him. She gives him a kind of embarrassed grin. “I support the troops in principle,” she says. “But I don’t actually do anything about it. So I figure I should only wear the sticker one day in ten.”

“That’s a lot of overhead for a sticker,” Steve says.

RELIGION

It happens that as Ellen is showering the next day the image of Jesus forms in the mist on her shower door. Naturally she screams and covers Jesus’ eyes with a small hand towel.

After a moment she feels silly and takes the towel down, because her body has no features that Jesus has not seen before, but the momentary gesture has entirely erased the holy image of her Lord.

“Huh,” she says.

She thinks about this.

“He was probably going to tell me I should fall in love with Steve,” she says. “Because he loves me and wants me to be happy.”

This is an enlightening message and a cheerful thought and she is happy for a little bit. But then she realizes that Jesus could appear at any time in anything—in a mirror, in a glass of water, in the painting of him in the lobby at the lab, or even in the perturbations of graininess on her lunch sandwich bread. She is nervous all day, always looking around to see if a sacred image has spontaneously formed to judge her assertion.

Standing in the lobby, beneath its great cavernous ceiling, she shouts, “What do you want from me?”

It echoes there and about and Dr. Morgan is staring at her from his office with his tufted eyebrows high and there is a swift and sudden touch of grace on her soul and she recognizes that most probably Jesus was just appearing to cure a cancer she hadn’t even realized that she had.

“Oh, gee, thanks, Jesus,” she says. It is sarcastic as she says it and then it becomes sincere with a horrified, after-the-fact embarrassment.

THEORIES OF SOCIAL ORDER

“So, I was reading the case against same-sex marriage,” Steve proposes, at the lunchroom table.

Ellen takes a bite of her sandwich.

“One idea that resonated with me,” Steve says, “is that there is an inherent tradeoff between sacredness and flexibility. That we do inherently value less what is less structured, less specific, less weighted with ceremony and tradition. That in a real way, there is a magic, special relationship that is—”

Here he pauses to gesture cyclically in the air, as he does when he is searching for the right word.

“—is threatened, perhaps—”

Ellen chews, swallows, and observes, “You do know Drs. Thurible and Morgan give each other the hot man-love, right?”

There’s a bit of a pause.

“I’m just talking theoretically,” Steve says.

GIANT BALLS OF FIRE

A red ball of superheated, superdense plasma rolls chaotically around the lobby of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

If the reader requires an explanation for this event, one need only turn to the motto of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories, etched on its wall in gilt:

“Accidents Happen.”

If no explanation is necessary, of course, then the narrative proceeds.

A red ball of superheated, superdense plasma rolls chaotically around the lobby of Morgan-Thurible Laboratories.

It is very hot and dangerous in the fashion that superheated plasma often is, particularly when rolling around unattended.

Ellen is in the elevator. She is frantically pushing the buttons. In case of fire you are technically supposed to use the stairs but this would necessitate getting out of the elevator, walking past the rolling ball of plasma, and opening the stairway door, the handle to which is currently bubbling. For this reason she has elected to disregard ordinary safety guidelines.

Steve walks out of Dr. Morgan’s office into the lobby. He stops and stares.

“Are we all going to die?” he asks.

“It’s flesh-averse,” Ellen says.

“It is?”

Steve’s voice is incredulous.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Ellen says.

She pushes on the buttons some more but as she is in a light panic the elevator only wobbles its doors and they do not close.

“Focus, Ellen,” she tells herself.

She looks down at the panel of buttons. Very carefully she pushes the “Emergency Containment Annex” button so that it lights up. Then she releases the elevator lock.

The ball of fire jumps suddenly towards Steve.

“Hold the door,” Steve cries.

For a moment, Ellen holds the door.

Steve stumbles into the elevator.

He stumbles into her and somehow they wind up in a hug before they back away.

He’s looking at her. She’s looking at him. They are thinking, “Is this what the ball of superheated superdense plasma intended?”

The door closes.

The elevator dings.

And Steve gives her this marvelous grin, and Ellen pushes back her glasses, and they say, not even realizing at first that the other is talking, “I’ve been looking for a reason to fall in love with you.”

And they understand in that one moment that they are in love and that one of Steve’s shoes is on fire, and it is simple; burning; passionate; and sweet.

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