Science Fiction Speculative Horror

"What is the fundamental difference between the natural and the supernatural? What is the essential characteristic of magic?"

George R. Price

"Science and the Supernatural," Science, August 26, 1955


“Feel better?” Reynolds growled lazily, sipping noisily at his Viente Americano.

Danzer considered, settling in with his Grande Kona as he glanced absently at the cadaverous panhandler at the nearby junction of Baseline and Val Vista, where Mesa met Gilbert in a torrent of mid-morning traffic. Reynolds had suppressed a smirk as Danzer paused to reexamine the imaginative backstory the unfortunate man had scrawled on a cardboard placard, and had waited patiently as his companion dug a few wrinkled bills from his khakis. The pauper's toothy show of gratitude betrayed a propensity toward methamphetamine.

“Difficult to judge, conclusively,” Carroll Danzer now mulled, shifting a skinny buttock to allow passage by a pair of Hot Moms fresh from preschool dropoff. “Hardly a reliable control – they don’t even seem to strive for credibility these days. PSTD, cancer, and three kids? I might have advised him that less is more. However, I’m beginning to believe Price was right, though it seems scarcely worth slashing one’s carotid over.”

Reynolds sighed; this was standard prologue to his “mentor’s” daily business – academic rumination, rhetorical wagers, garrulous banter over issues esoteric and hypothetical. This bit of business was as calculated as the selection of Starbuck’s for their daily grind – in their faded Walmart tees and golf shorts, and Shoe Warehouse sneakers, they were as good as invisible amid the yuppies, stay-at-homes, wheeler-dealers, and plugged-in/tuned-out millennials who frequented the hip franchise. 

If Scottsdale to the north was Phoenix’ Beverly Hills analogue, Gilbert proper was Bel Air. Reynolds’ broad back was to the fountains and pillars of Dana Park plaza, where foodies and fashionistas already were congregating for the day’s trade..

“You know, I met George Price at IBM, back in, oh, ‘66, right before he moved to London,” Danzer now rumbled. “He was damaged goods even then. They’d botched his thyroid surgery, left him partially paralyzed. But that wasn’t the half of it – man was like a shell, walking dead. They’d squeezed him dry at Argonne and Bell, and that piece he’d done for Science back in ’55 had bitten his ass with a vengeance. ‘Science and the Supernatural,’” he mused, sampling his Kona’s smooth, deep profile. He’d had better during his stint on Oahu, but Starbuck’s amped-up version hacked immediately into his adenosine receptors, enabling dopamine and glutamate to have their way with his rapidly oxidizing system.

“I’m guessing Price laughed you out of the room,” Reynolds suggested, longing for a cigarette he couldn’t enjoy until they were back on the street. He devoured black market duty-free American Spirits supplied by a friend on “the res,” sidestepping Arizona’s high tobacco taxes in what he considered a stiff middle finger to a fascistically correct state bureaucracy. 

“Gave me the bum’s rush two sentences into my pitch,” Danzer barked. Hawaiian coffee was Danzer’s sole drug, but the physicist understood what fired Reynolds’ impressive neurons and thus suffered his prodigy’s contact nicotine. “After the Science piece, the fellows thought he’d be the perfect devil’s advocate, you should pardon the pun. Called me a witch doctor, but in a much more verbose manner. Ironic, considering his little ‘epiphany’ a few years later. Always wondered if our brief interview somehow started his wheels turning.”

More likely (Reynolds theorized), George Price’s brush with mortality, care of a glandular tumor, had sparked the chemist’s epiphany that he had been something of a Nobel-caliber dick – to his abandoned spouse and daughters, to his aging mother, to his peers and lab rats alike. That long-due revelation, along with some likely alterations in neural chemistry related to his thyroid malfunction, had turned a jihadist atheist who attributed miracles to fraud or “mildly abnormal mental conditions” into a self-styled biblical scholar who’d eschewed his worldly goods and invited the homeless into his London flat as part of a late-life experiment to prove the “Price equation” – a genetic predisposition toward behavior that sacrifices individual welfare for the collective fitness of the tribe.

Determined to mathematically quantify human altruism, the former Harvard scientist made a mad science project out of random charity. Giving ‘til it hurt, in the end, hurt. Price was roundly fleeced by his substance-addled flock, ousted from his North London rental, and, deprived of a roof under which to house his guinea pigs, met a tragic end at the point of a pair of nail scissors. 

Only a quarter of a century later did the disillusioned population geneticist and his theories come into their own. The notion that the Greater Good could prevail without dragging God or for that matter humanity into the equation was appealing to millennials.

“Price might be gratified to know how much he contributed to Tinkerbell,” Danzer suggested, glancing mournfully at his now-empty cup as Reynolds scowled. “Oh, don’t soil yourself. I could perform the overture from Aida right here on the patio, and these disconnected narcissists either would go for their noise-canceling earwear or retreat uncomfortably for their Lexi, or whatever the term for multiple Lexuses. C’mon, we have quite a bit to cover."


For Jim Reynolds, there were few truly magical places where the vortices of time and space generated a unique and exotic energy. Opening day at Wrigley, seated at nearly congruent angles to both batter and pitcher. The Palmer House lobby at Christmas. Friday night at Pizzeria Uno after a rough week in the labs, watching men of science and macrocosmic perspective struck dumb by the arrival of a steaming fresh pie.

There was a different form of “magic” at work in this Maryland cleanroom, purportedly designed by Willis Whitfield, “Mr. Clean” himself, in ’65. If the visiting Chicagoan had had to put his finger on it, he’d have placed it in the spectrum between bad mojo and the emotionally airless avant-garde sci-fi/horror flicks that had become so popular the last few years.

It wasn’t so much the blinding sterility of the lab – Reynolds was a scion of the new Information Age, and had spent much of his past five years commuting between dimly illuminated, cluttered computer banks and Kubrickian fish tanks like this. It was, rather, the jarring presence of Carroll Danzer among the monster-capacity Series 90 Univacs, consoles, and printers.

Danzer had been podium pals with Feynman and Yoichiro Nambu and Charles Towne in a sort of informal Rat Pack of ‘60s quantum wave theory. He’d made the inner circle of postwar physicists after being shortlisted for a Nobel for his theories on electroweak forces and potential energy. Rumor was Danzer’s nomination had been flagged for some of his more unorthodox research at Duke in the early ‘50s. Reynolds nonetheless felt like a third-grader escorted into the Cubs dugout.

As Danzer looked up from his examination of an 80-megabyte disk pack, Reynolds realized he was smaller, more delicate than he might have realized. Reynolds, a hirsute bear as absorbed in baseball stats as he was in quarks and leptons, understood the dynamics of isolated particles, and he felt a pang of empathy. And unease.

“Each of these disks can hold 42 million words – the equivalent of more than a thousand books,” the graying theorist breathed. “Imagine the breadth of Man’s knowledge converted into electromagnetic energy and potentially stored in the space of a small warehouse. You’ve heard, of course, of ARPANET?”

“Advanced Research Projects Agency Network – informational packet switching network.” Reynolds flushed – trying to impress teacher. “Really cool stuff.”

“Yes,” Danzer smiled. “Someday, we’ll teleport data, research, even mail around the world, in the beat of a heart. Instantaneous global communications, the democratic sharing of ideas in a virtualized think tank – the next step toward a harmonized, intellectually evolved society.”

“Wow, yeah,” Reynolds nodded, lacking a more trenchant reply.

“And you, Dr. Reynolds, can be among the Einsteins and Plancks of this new era,” his host murmured. Danzer rolled chairs from the console, sat primly, and patted the hard plastic seat beside him. “Come, Jim. I’ve had the room thoroughly swept, so you can brief me in complete confidence.

Reynolds took his seat, gingerly. “We’re talking about my hidden wave work, right? Sure, it’s exciting stuff – I really think we’re onto something – but we’re in the early stages, and even if I’m right, I’m really not sure any of this will have any practical application for at least another century.”

“We are not in the early stages -- you are onto something potentially paradigm-shattering…”

Jim Reynolds had never felt that passion for plumbing the cosmos and consciousness. He’d proven a startlingly brilliant if unimposing prodigy as a freshman in Oakbrook, and had sparked a recruiting war between MIT, Stanford, and Northwestern and a full-court press by Argonne and Fermi. The corporate offers were simply too frightening for Reynolds even to entertain.

“After you detected those ‘phantom’ echoes within the gamma spectrum and theorized super-gamma wavelengths, we flagged you,” Danzer continued. “My colleagues have precision resources that render these Series 90s mere toaster ovens. You gave us the roadmap; we found the on-ramp.”

Danzer shifted slightly, and for a microsecond, Reynolds feared he’d put a liver-spotted paw on his knee and his bladder would evacuate.

“We isolated your wavelength – actually an entire spectrum beyond the 10-picogram threshold. It’s erratic, shifting in frequency second by second, stabilizing at random intervals, and harmonizing periodically frequently before dropping from detection.”


Danzer then cackled, and Reynolds bit down hard to avoid voiding. “Of course, you know the first law of thermodynamics.”

Reynolds jerked. “Um, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Within a closed system.”

“Yes, very good, Jim. So my colleagues were faced with a few alternative assumptions. These waves were capable of shifting to even higher frequencies, beyond our detection. Or we’ve been entirely wrong about the nature of energy. Or…?”

Reynolds gawped at his icon for a moment as his brain began to rev on fumes. “Or, or…”

Danzer frowned. Reynolds shrugged.

“Or,” the scientist supplied, “these waves move routinely between mechanical and potential states. But where is this electromagnetic energy stored when in its potential state? That assumption led to a frenzied and fruitless search for advanced Soviet or Chinese technologies. Then, finally, I was asked to consult. You see, I’d done some extensive work in the ‘50s and ‘60s with physical anomalies, and they felt a fresh set of eyes might cast some light on our conundrum.” He glanced, challenging, at his mute junior. “As I noted, these waves spiked and nearly flattened or vanished for days at a time, then peaked and coalesced before again dispersing. I charted these events over a three-month period, and found they cycled over a roughly seven-day interval.”

Danzer briefly drummed his thigh, then continued.

“Soooo, I recommended we set up monitoring at additional sites. To be specific, at the Lawrence Berkeley and Oak Ridge National Labs; Utah State University; the new Pittsburgh Energy Research Center; and Duke University.”

Reynold’s thick brows furrowed. “The Pittsburgh center’s fossil fuel research, right? I mean, I get Oak Ridge – major computing capabilities there – and, of course, the Lawrence physics lab. Duke, OK; that’s your old stomping grounds? But, pardon me for saying, Utah State?”

Reynolds waited for the temp in the cold room to drop even further. Instead, Danzer appeared, well, pleased.

“I didn’t select these sites for their strategic benefits. With the exception of Duke, location is key here. California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Utah. Venture a guess.”


Danzer smiled. At least his stupidity pleased the old bastard. “Do you recall when you first detected your supergamma echoes?”

“I dunno, late 1973, I guess.” Danzer’s brow rose. “Yeah, OK. November 9, 1973.”

“Very good. Now, were you aware that there was a rather major event in Chicago November 8th through the 11th? Every fall, the American Academy of Religion holds its annual meeting in a different U.S. city. Scholars in religious studies and theology from across the U.S., North America, even from around the globe.”

Reynolds had forgotten about his urinary needs. “Say what?”

“This meeting draws luminaries from nearly all major Judeo-Christian sects, plus scholars in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and other world belief systems. It’s like the World Series of religion. It energizes the cult of followers throughout the diocese, the neighborhood churches, the temples. At its core are the true believers – those who’ve devoted their lives to studying, dissecting, critiquing their faith and who have emerged with their beliefs intact.”

Reynolds slapped his paws against his corduroyed thighs, and began to rise. “Is there like a men’s room here?”

“To the left out the lab door, the far end of the corridor, across from the cyclotron lab.” Danzer paused. “If you’d rather use the facilities at your hotel, I’ll have security escort you out.”

Whacko or not, Danzer still had pull, and neither the Argonne brass nor probably DOE would take kindly to a junior researcher walking on a Nobel short-lister. Reynolds took his seat.

“You’re familiar, of course, with Schrodinger’s wave theory? Potential energy? Well, some years ago, Erwin Schrodinger and I discussed the notion of Schrodingerian forces – energies that exist only in an observed state. Potential energy of a sort, but reliant on human consciousness, if you will.”

“Jesus,” Reynolds muttered despite himself.

“Schrodinger, you know, theorized human sentience was connected, unified through a larger quantum circuit, and theorized the answer was to be found in the molecular structure of our genes. I might suggest we look even deeper. I would suggest that your Reynolds frequencies – that’s what we call them, you know – were the product of an anomalous energy convergence. A convergence of consciousness, belief, however you wish to qualify it.”

“This is fucked up,’ Reynolds stated. “I don’t think I’m the guy for this, Dr. Danzer.”

“Carroll. I considered the random, erratic nature of your wavelengths. As random and chaotic as the human mind, as human nature. So I began to analyze demographic factors that might tie into your energy surge, unusual manmade phenomena, covert research or military/intelligence operations. The sole anomaly of any significance appeared to be the AAR conference.

“Now, I’m not talking God – I’m talking about the power of human consciousness, of Schrodinger’s unified consciousness. As we honed in on the Reynold’s frequencies, I found verification for my assumptions. You remember I told you these frequencies spike at a rough interval?”

“Yeah, what, a seven day inter—“ Reynolds halted as Danzer nodded vigorously. “Shit. C’mon.” Then, he laughed harshly, wetting himself ever so slightly. “Mormons.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Utah State. You wanna measure Mormons.”

The clean room dampened Danzer’s single loud clap. “Very good, Jim. The Mormons represent a highly ritualized, hive-like, devout following. Tennessee is an enclave for American Protestant fundamentalism, Pennsylvania a haven for traditionalist Amish and Mennonites.”

Reynolds crossed his right leg over the dime-sized spot at his groin. “Wait. California?”

“I told you this wasn’t about religious faith per se, Jim. The University of California-Berkeley continues to be a focal point for sociopolitical zealotry, psychotropic drug use, and West Coast cultism structurally similar to conventional religious fundamentalism.”

“Look. You guys are already a few light-years ahead of me, and it’s not like I can take you to court over electromagnetic naming rights or a Nobel Prize. Why bother telling me all this?”

Danzer nodded sympathetically. “Jim, your discovery opens the door not only to a greater understanding of our physical world but also to the untapped potential of the human mind. You, Jim, you’ve cracked the code.”

Danzer smacked the post-grad’s leg, chuckling. “Come along. We’ll find a men’s room. I want you focused.”


“The DNA screening,” Reynolds sighed. “You feel it’s really necessary?”

Danzer waved his concerns away. “Sampling would be on a voluntary basis. Those participating would be assured immunity. Or, at least the perception of immunity. Those who do not remain exposed, and they know it. Purely a deterrent measure. Certainly more effective and economically feasible than commissioning a cleanup crew. And the canine waste station had almost no support.”

“Nothing as aesthetically pleasing as a steaming pile of shih tzu stool among the bougainvillea,” Reynolds grunted. “All right, let’s just put it up for a vote Saturday.”

“All right, that brings us to membership. Couple of potentials looking at 134 – the Brightons and the Safirs.”

Reynolds’ knee rattled the table. Ripples formed in his cooling Americano. “Safir?”

Danzer nodded. “Our first, unbelievably. Problem is, they’re still looking around the area, and the Brightons – Methodists – love the unit as is and are ready to move in yesterday.”

Danzer’s pulse quickened. “What are we talking here? Retirees?”

“The Safirs? Husband works at Hewlett-Packard in Phoenix, mid-level tech. Young but conservative, or at least observant – he was wearing an Ayat al Kursi pendant during the tour, and he turned five polite shades of gray when I offered him a Miller Lite. Expensive piece, the pendant, though – they’re definitely mobile, and I’m not sure how we might sweeten the pot.”

“Maybe we can waive a few months’ fees. Jeez, just get ‘em.” Reynolds huffed, creaking to his feet.

The placard bearer peered up as the old men approached the intersection. His leathery face clouded as he recognized a prior mark. Reynolds groaned as Danzer peeled off.

“Here, friend,” the latter cooed, proffering Reynold’s five and one beside. “There’s a Subway down the block. Have a nice meal, something cold to drink – we don't want heatstroke now, do we?"

A row of meth-ravaged teeth stretched into an approximation of a grin."God bless you, brother. God watch over you."

"And you, as well," Danzer murmured, stepping upwind. "And thank you for your service."

"Hah? Oh, yeah, no prob. God bless you."

"God bless us everyone," Reynolds grunted as his mentor hobbled up. 

May 15, 2023 23:32

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Myranda Marie
16:47 May 25, 2023

Admittedly, I had to read through twice. However, that is a compliment as I didn't want to miss any details. I ended my second read wishing I could be privy to those conversations in real life, simply for the thought provocation.


Martin Ross
17:37 May 25, 2023

Thanks, Miranda! I know some old snowbird guys in AZ, and I thought it would be fun to envision them as mad bad scientists. I appreciate you reading it!


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Russell Mickler
23:19 May 21, 2023

Hey there, Martin - Loved this: “The pauper's toothy show of gratitude betrayed a propensity toward methamphetamine.” And: “Friday night at Pizzeria Uno after a rough week in the labs, watching men of science and macrocosmic perspective struck dumb by the arrival of a steaming fresh pie” How do you come up with this stuff?! :) Woot - do never disappoint on the quirky computer history. “ You’ve heard, of course, of ARPANET?”” Gaackk! “Yeah, what, a seven day inter—“ Reynolds halted as Danzer nodded vigorously. “Shit. C’mon.” Then, he la...


Martin Ross
02:40 May 22, 2023

Thanks, Russell! I actually prefer Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s for a Chicago pie, but Uno’s is kinda a more group joint, and one the occasional visitor might know better. And after your thick and meaty comment, I want a deepdish (Giordano’s opened a location in town here, sooooo…) I thought it would be fun to reflect on the great humanitarian benefit we thought the Internet would bring us all, especially given that Danzer is the chief villain of the Tinkering series and the novel I hope to cobble together from these pieces. Have been playin...


Russell Mickler
02:48 May 22, 2023

Hehe rock on. Hang on, I have a song for you ... https://www.google.com/search?q=welcome+to+the+internet&oq=welcome+to+the+Internet&aqs=chrome.0.0i355i433i512j46i433i512j0i512l8.2905j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 This song reminds me so much of the potential the Internet had before idiots came around and screwed it up :) Love your work, of course - deep dish is satisfying and filling :) R


Martin Ross
15:50 May 22, 2023

🤣👍 — thanks! Loved it! And I must underline that I appreciate pizza in almost all its gloriously diverse forms, except maybe the West Coast excesses in green veggie toppings and “dessert” pizza, which belongs in the same despised category as cinnamon or blueberry bagels. And don’t get me wrong — you can call a frosted cherry “pizza” a jumbo galette and plug that Hallmark bagel’s hole or fill it with cream cheese and call it a chewy danish. Just sayin’.


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Mary Bendickson
16:44 May 16, 2023

Too rich for me. I need an interpreter.🤔


Martin Ross
19:22 May 16, 2023



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Aoi Yamato
01:51 Jun 23, 2023

Someday, we’ll teleport data, research, even mail around the world, in the beat of a heart and see cats. many cats


Martin Ross
01:53 Jun 23, 2023



Aoi Yamato
01:00 Jun 26, 2023



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Graham Kinross
09:35 Sep 11, 2023

I see you've burnt through a few keyboards since I last read your stories. I like how naive the inventors were thinking their technology would ease humanity into a new golden age when its instead used for pornography, scamming and selling us even more things we don't need. HD streaming is good though. Progress is a double edged sword. If only the laws could keep up with it I think it would be far more positive. Great story Martin, if a bit difficult to follow compared to your more linear stories.


Martin Ross
12:20 Sep 11, 2023

Thanks, Graham! Yeah, the Tinkering stories are kinda all over the place, and trying to cobble them together as a novel, I realize I’m creating a huge situation I have no idea how to resolve. Yeah, I’m old enough to remember when the web was wholly a pipe dream. My favorite dumb publisher line ever, circa ‘90s — “This Internet thing is a passing fad.” As I await the Temu delivery of my new virtual reality neck fan surfing the foot fetish sites, I can only guffaw at his short-sightedness…


Graham Kinross
06:07 Sep 12, 2023

Anything that made it easier for people to watch porn was always going to be a big thing. https://youtu.be/_oo3tIbAhc0?si=t8QK5exfL8z-hfky


Martin Ross
14:46 Sep 12, 2023

God bless ‘em!🤣🤣


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