Are you in the office?

“Do you have a minute?” read the email. The Editorial Specialist opened Macrohard Community and saw that he had been assigned a Community Task, which was the same as a regular task, except that its assignment did not require human interaction, virtual or otherwise. The task—“Finish formatting ‘Deconstructing The Stratified Opposition Between Religion And Science In Favor Of A Dialectical Approach’ slides. Due Date – tomorrow’s date”—hovered onscreen, highlighted in yellow to emphasize its dire urgency. Next to the task floated a little circle containing an image of the Scientist, clad in a burnt sienna button-down t-shirt and a polka-dot tie, situated among a crowd of disadvantaged youth and bearing an expression halfway between that of a used car salesman making his grubbiest pitch and a child at the mall who has just realized that the pant leg he grabbed doesn’t belong to his parent. The Editorial Specialist, his Community Task duly delivered from on high, navigated to the PowerPoint slides and opened the document.

“Slide 1: The arrogant atheist excludes God a priori

  • How then would the aggressive atheist explain the existence of miracles and beauty?
  • How then would the malcontent atheist explain the existence of the Holy Bible, the one true word of God?
  • This a priori exclusion of God—there is no God, therefore God doesn’t exist—represents reasoning more circular than the wheels of the stationary bicycle that I rode across the pixelated sands of Damascus as part of the 2020 Virtual Holylands Faithful Scientist Triathalon and Conference, in which I placed a humble fourth out of twenty
  • Deism, too, is profoundly illogical.
    • Why would a clockmaker create such a beautiful clock and then turn his back on his creation to fiddle with other bits and pieces?
    • He would not. 

Slide 2: Pride and humility in science

  • Scientists are proud of their knowledge and expertise, but what do they really know?
    • 3000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the one true scientist, curious little people in the Indus Valley invented measuring devices such as the protractor and the weighing scale, but did they realize that the things they were measuring were part of God’s kingdom?
      • No, they did not.
    • It follows that scientists now know very little as well.
  • Proud scientists often claim to understand topics outside of their areas of expertise.
    • For example, Borgensen, who is a perfectly adequate Co-Vice-Chair for Interdepartmental Advancement of Co-Vice Chairs, recently indicated to me, a certain mummified scent emanating from his body as he did so, that he believes that the y-axis text on a graph graphing the number of committees co-chaired per faculty member per quarter should be larger than the x-axis text, when any decrepit, ha ha, Professor With Tenure and Vice Chair In Charge Of Research Chair Appointments knows that the text size should be the same for both axes.
    • Borgensen’s error proves the possibility of the existence of God many times over

Slide 3: God’s words in the Bible: Science? Yes.

  • God rules by speaking. When He decrees something, it happens. We know this because the Bible tells us, and the Bible is the word of God, and God is never wrong, because the Bible tells us.
    • Therefore, when a chemical reaction occurs in a scientific experiment, it only occurs because God, in booming tones, tells it to occur
    • When Borgensen’s deafening mastications worm their way through my office wall, this too is a test from God.
  • God’s grace is the ultimate scientific experiment. What will happen now that He has extended, through the crucifixion and miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one true scientist, His ever-loving grace to even the most steadfastly secular scientists?
    • Will these scientists ascend to Heaven with the faithful elect?
    • Will they languish in the shades of Purgatory, that eternal waiting room?
    • Or will they simmer and rot in the fiery swamps of Hell while lava fish nibble on their toes, bat-like creatures defecate acid upon their heads, and demons rip out their entrails and play them like guitar strings?

Slide 4: The Creation (Of Science) 

  • The Bible tells us that God created the Earth in 6 days
    • 6 days could also mean 6 picoseconds, because the peoples of that time would not have been able to distinguish between the two
    • Moses was not aware of the concept of picoseconds, because he did not have handy an atomic clock, the vibration of whose cesium atoms would have been necessary for such awareness
    • Many modern humans, in their arrogance, believe that Moses was able to measure picoseconds. They do not understand that this is impossible. How can they not see? 
    • Because Moses could not measure Picoseconds, and because the Earth was created in 6 picoseconds, and because the so-called Big Bang also occurred in a matter of picoseconds, then we can safely infer that the Big Bang was actually the booming voice of God tearing a hole in the fabric of nothingness and allowing somethingness to seep through

Slide 5: Science Has Forsaken The Church

  • The saddest aspect of modern science and the Enlightenment in general is that all scientific fields have turned their backs on the word of God.
    • Zoologists discount the Ark
    • Geologists discount the Great Flood
    • Gynecologists discount the Virgin Birth.
  • Biblical data are the most accurate data that we possess, because they literally record the creation of the entire universe.
    • Could a scientist such as Borgensen, for example, accomplish this?
  • The only way forward is for science to truly embrace the Old Testament and accept God’s merciful wrath into its cold, calculating heart.
    • An angry God demands penance
    • Borgensen will pay this penance”

The Editorial Specialist pasted a jpeg of the Leon Bonnat painting onto the final slide, saved the file, and emailed it to the Scientist.

The Editorial Coordinator waited in the hall outside the Academic Manager’s office while the Sundress Professor With Tenure, clad now in a blue surgical mask, an N95, a second blue surgical mask, and a second N95, stood halfway inside the office door, facing the Academic Manager’s desk, flanked by the newest member of her support flock, a curly-haired, ruddy-foreheaded young woman also wearing a surgical mask. “Oh, you should be impressed by how fast I submitted my promotion package. Like, did you see the turnaround time on that email? It’s usually a few weeks, because my head is just all over the place, and I only recently started sleeping after thirty years of restless nights—thanks, melatonin and extensive therapy—and I have so many thoughtlessly suicidal patients triggering my PTSD and trauma from my own bout of depression decades ago—thanks, Lexapro and regular exercise—and July is super busy for me and for my poor appointment schedulers, and it’s just so hard to respond to emails, much less put together a promotion package, but I did great, right, don’t you think? I should really have my support flock earn MDs so that they can take my patients. And now poor Juselda here needs a biosketch written and we don’t have any examples or templates anywhere. Oh, you, shyly standing there against the Wall of Conference Posters, eyes cast down at your screen, this would be a job for you, right, putting together a folder of templates for important documents required by the busy and accomplished members of the department, and also for the less accomplished members who are looking to become more accomplished. This would be great for you to work on, right? Juselda, please meet, what was your name again, ah yes, please meet the Editorial Coordinator. Send the Editorial Coordinator anything you need that has to do with the internal workings and publications of our department, or just anything you don’t want to do. They will be helping us with this kind of thing. What was your name again? Ok, see, I’m just so busy with thinking and processing thirty years of insomnia and remembering when I’m supposed to get a massage and pondering the ethical implications of genetic screenings on BIPOC and differently-abled people and remembering to give emotional support to my research assistants and unpacking the news of the day that it’s hard for me to learn people’s names. Would you like me to send you a list of documents that we need templates for? Ok, you’ll need to email me at least six times to remind me; it’s just so difficult with Winston being in the hospital and my niece teething and my anxious, insecurely attached brother calling at all hours for advice. Juselda, please remind me how the hell to send a file in an email. I tried for at least three minutes the other day and wasn’t able to do it and had an anxiety flare-up and was forced to stop for the day and get a deep tissue massage. Don’t remind me now, but remind me later once I need to remember, and also remind me that I need to remember to remember. I will try and get around to sending the template list within the next month, but let’s please try and have the templates created within a few weeks, ok? Ok, great. Oh, no, I forgot that I had a meeting. Why didn’t you remind me? You’re in charge of my calendar, right? Either way, please include me in the minutes for the meeting that just happened. That’s fine, include me anyway. I’ll have forgotten I wasn’t there.” The Sundress Professor With Tenure drifted down the hallway, Juselda in tow, her voice, already muffled by layers of material, gradually fading until it blended fully with the background chatter of the office suite.

The sun cast its first rays over the prairie. The Coordinator, his clothes tattered and stained with blood, hefted the sharpened rock and faced the final coyote, which snarled and yipped through a thicket of serrated teeth. Morning had come, and the Coordinator was still alive, much to his own surprise. The bodies of his canine attackers lay prone in the grass around him, fanned out like an array of carrion guitar pedals. Others had already fled, not before riddling the Coordinator’s limbs and torso with jagged perforations. The Coordinator hurled the rock at the final coyote, catching it on the snout. It let out a horrifying scream and bounded off into the rising run. The Coordinator’s phone, somehow also still alive, buzzed. A Macrohard Community call. He picked up and faced yellow eyes widened with crazed skepticism: “I was just looking for you. Are you in the office today? Oh, still on the prairie. When are you planning on being back in the office? That desk is still sitting in the printer room; the other day when I was rushing around looking for you, I checked in the printer room to make sure you weren’t hiding, and I tripped right over the desk and almost killed myself. We really need to do something about that, and by we, I mean you really need to do something about that. Mama doesn’t do the tools. I’m just, brrrr, frenzied this week. They’re putting a new wing on my house, and my demented old father keeps destroying his hospital room because the doctors are trying to talk to him about medical bills. Now why would they do that? He has Medicare, so he really has nothing to worry about, but he’s a bit whooooo.” The professor with tenure looped a finger in the air around her head to signify the extent of her demented old father’s whooooo.

 “Oh, god, this cough is still here; I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Just, oooh. What’s that on your face? Oh, blood, ok. Speaking of blood, we’re going to be doing blood draws for our HuVuFluRuReRe study, which examines the impact of pro-vaccine messaging, in conjunction with blood type, on rural participants’ willingness to be paid to consume pro-vaccine messaging and consider getting a vaccine, which means we’ll have lots of plastic gloves sitting around, assuming those country folks want to come all the way to the big city and get their arms poked up. Oh, god, we need a phlebotomist. We won’t find one in time. I’ll just have to find one. Can you look into getting certified in phlebotomy? Anyway, I just finished my final session for my Co-Certificate of Sustainable Practices and Environmental Equity, and apparently there are programs that recycle plastic gloves. Can you do some research into these programs? I’ll send you the names of some companies. Apparently, PlasCorp recycled so many gloves that they were able to create a plastic bench, complete with plastic spikes up and down its length so that the unhoused aren’t able to use it as a recycled plastic bed, as it does sit out in front of the Center For The Regional Society For Humanity-Focused Research Solutions, and we wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. It looks like you might be foaming at the mouth there. I foamed at the mouth one time yesterday, when the jaundice was in particularly robust form. Well, now your face is contorting into strange iterations of itself, and you seem to be trying to interrupt me with squelching gasps, so I guess you want to get going on the plastic blood glove recycling research. Ok, let me know when you’re back in the office so that you can fix the desk and get trained in phlebotomy.” The call ended in the middle of a coughing fit with tenure, and the Coordinator dropped to his knees, hands clutching at his throat, as a car appeared over the horizon. 

The Assistant, worn down from hours of scheduling and soothing frantic patients, reclined in her office chair, ladling bubble tea into her mouth from a plastic tub. She closed her eyes, allowing the slimy marbles of tapioca to slip down her throat. Soon, she would be home, curled up in front of the entertainment algorithm with her one-eared cat. She heard the Sundress Professor With Tenure approaching from around the corner of the cubicle, the esteemed geneticist’s impending presence ushered in by a muffled buzz of anxious logorrhea: “…I just can’t even do it today, ok, I wasn’t reminded in enough time because the new Editorial Coordinator only emailed me three times instead of four like I asked. Like, how can people be expected to do things if they’re only reminded three times instead of four? Now I have to put off my LumocityTM Human Interaction and Creativity Boosting Strategies webinar training and certification by a whole hour.”

The Sundress Professor With Tenure rounded the corner, a bicycle helmet doing its best to hold in the bulging bundle of surgical masks that swaddled her entire head. “Oh, hi there, sounds like it was a busy day of scheduling and being gaslit by patients. I heard your sobs on the conference call earlier. You did great, ok, it’s just a learning curve at first. Glad you’re eating the bubbles; they help, right? Well, wait until you hear how crazy my day has been. First, I can’t even see where I’m going because the university won’t protect me from germs or at least provide me with the type of brain computer interface that Dr. Raviolioli was given so that I can sense my way around the office suite; the only way I avoided colliding with Dr. Borgensen was by listening to the resonance of his chews as they bounced off hard surfaces. Also first, while I was spinning in my office chair with the door locked and the lights off, as I do every morning for two hours to combat the disembarkment syndrome that I’ve suffered since the conclusion of the Consortium Cruise for Genetic Professionals, I got pressured, via Community, ok, to either accept or reject a position on the esteemed Co-Departmental Search Committee For Co-Department Chair(s) of Medicine and Non-Medicine Engagement. I mean, sure, they’ve been emailing me constantly for the past month, but it’s just been too stressful to respond to them, what with my patients mentally abusing me, the bubble tea place not providing the correct tub size, my deep tissue massage being rescheduled twice and then administered by a mere trainee, who caused me anguish, ok, and, worst of all, Grumpus’s descent into the bowels of old age. I mean, he’s 18 at this point. He can’t stand up without vibrating. His little mustache droops, and often picks up floor detritus when he lies facedown, which is his new favorite activity. I almost tripped over him the other day while I was preparing a volcanic salt cleanse for the tip of my nose, which becomes inflamed when I am overburdened with emails and vice-committee duties. So the thing for tonight is, I need to go and grab another tub of bubble tea, this one for personal use, and then I need to go and lie on a table while a massage intern inflicts unspeakable terrors on my muscles and joints. Then I have to drive to my brother’s house—driving actually soothes the disembarkment syndrome, thank god—and provide him with emotional support for his current bout of crushing anxiety, brought on by his teething daughter’s wails and gnaws. The attachment is so insecure, ok. Like really. Then I have to choke down the food cooked by my sister-in-law, a so-called gourmet chef who has never even heard of Krale, the blend of leafy greens and small ocean crustaceans that has alleviated my depression, along with Lexapro, therapy, and regular exercise.”

“So, basically, tonight, I need you to come over and watch Grumpus for the weekend. Here’s my house key. Don’t lose it or give it to one of my clinging patients. Grumpus needs supervision. You’re a cat person, so you’ll understand. Just spend some time with him as he wastes away into a shaggy pile of dust, ok, the poor thing. Feed him his ethically sourced sockeye salmon filets—maybe chew the food yourself and spit it on his special plate, since his teeth have all fallen out. Then carry his limp form to his meditation chamber, where he will smell the catnip growing on the walls and remember better days. Most of his time will be spent in the chamber, ok, but just make sure that he has enough food and that he’s alive. And if he doesn’t make it, poor thing, you can always replace him before I get home, and I’ll be none the wiser, ok. I’ll probably be too frazzled to even notice, due entirely to my sister-in-law and my brother and my niece and the Editorial Coordinator’s far-too-sporadic emails and my committee duties and my disembarkment syndrome and the fucking massage intern; I literally cannot even begin to comprehend the abject tortures that will await me as I journey into thsfvfkl and the bubble tea place is calling me now, oh, what is it going to be next, hello, what do you mean you di…” The assistant watched the motorcycle helmet bob away over the tops of the cubicles. At the assistant’s home, the one-eared cat sat alone, weeping softly.

“Do you have a minute?” The Scientist’s giraffelike figure towered over the Editorial Specialist’s cubicle partition. Without waiting for a response, the Scientist wandered off in the direction of the suite’s main door. Scrambling, the Editorial Specialist grabbed his laptop and teetered after the Scientist, who, every few seconds, clutched his head as if he had remembered something important. At the door, the Scientist turned to the Editorial Specialist: “So, I’m guessing you’re curious about where we’re going. Seldom do I walk through these doors in the middle of the day, at least on days when I’m here in the department, as opposed to mulling over Biblical questions and helping the less blessed at the Community Outreach and Engagement Research Center, which is currently led by my colleague Dr. Bo Bo, a decent educator and promising researcher, albeit one with a, shall we say, tenuous understanding of current low-back-pain trends. Here’s the elevator now; after you. Youth before age, or BA before MD, PhD, FIDSA, MPH, FISMAT, as I believe they say. By the way, here’s a grain bar. Can you press the button for the ground floor? My hand is still injured from my botched flip turn. I see you’ve got your computer with you, and I don’t see one in my ruined hand, so how about taking some notes on our ambulatory meeting here? Getting back on topic, the answer to your unspoken question, which hung heavy in the air in the same fashion as Borgensen’s mummified stench, is: we’re going over to a meeting, ha ha, at the Dr. Arvadus D. Faistrel MD, PhD Building For Scientific Progress and Funding.” A vein bulged on the Scientist’s forehead. 



Ben Gibbons is a Pittsburgh-based writer; his blog, Bored In Pittsburgh, covers the local music community, and his music writing has also been featured in The Pittsburgher, Melted Magazine, and Weird Smells Zine. He has recently branched into fiction that explores the surreal and the absurd; his debut short story was published in Pinky Thinker Press. Ben recommends donating to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, January 30, 2023 - 22:02