By Dwight V. Swain (1915-92).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, November 1953.
Reprinted in Thrilling Wonder Stories (New Zealand) #102, 1954; Thrilling Wonder Stories (UK), January 1954; and Strange Adventures, January 2006.
Collected in One in Three Hundred/The Transposed Man (1955).
Novelette (45 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Note: Some text clipped off on page 26 but still legible.)
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"No matter whose body he inhabited, the traitor in his heart stayed right with him. . . ."The year 1953 saw the publication of two classic science fiction-mystery hybrids, Asimov's serialized THE CAVES OF STEEL (more HERE) and Bester's novelized THE DEMOLISHED MAN (article HERE—WARNING! NOTHING BUT SPOILERS!), which, in his comments on this story, the Thrilling Wonder editor (Samuel Mines) obviously views as the start of a publishing trend (that, unfortunately, never materialized):
~ SCIENCE AND MYSTERY ~
NOT too many good detective-type science fiction stories have been written and this is a curious thing because they seem to blend rather nicely. An author has to be consistent and logical to curb a standing temptation of solving his difficulties by pulling a scientific rabbit out of a hat whenever the going gets rough. This is unfair to the reader, since one of the precepts of the detective story is that presumably the author gives the reader all the clues he needs to decide whodunit. An author who keeps some magical science up his sleeve is cheating. THE TRANSPOSED MAN may keep you guessing, but plays fair in the main. It's a good sample of the fast moving, exciting type of science-mystery story which may become a staple in the next few years. — The EditorTo Alan, she is always the woman . . . It's been twelve years since Alan and Maurine have been an item, and a lot of fluid has flowed under the viaduct; neither one of them, however, could ever have anticipated the situation they're in now: Alan being an agent for Somex, a resistance group, at the same time Maurine is conducting experiments for FedGov that are meant to help them extirpate Somex once and for all. Rekindling an old flame has its risks, but for these two star-crossed lovers it could end on a funeral pyre . . .
~ Alan Lord, our first person narrator:
"I looked up. Terra hung there . . . Terra, my homeland, the great green ball that forever wheeled slowly in Luna's sky.
"Maurine Dorsett's homeland, too. Terra and Maurine. They were linked together deep inside me, down where it hurt. Bleakly, I wondered if I'd ever see either of them again. I was glad when the buzzer rang."
~ John Raines:
"The man at the door looked as greasy as his voice—short, fat, with a sickly smile that was pasted on. 'I—I'm Raines. . . .' He kept dodging my eyes."
~ Raines's secretary:
"She clawed at me, smearing me with clammy, ill-aimed kisses. Her frizzed hair got in my eyes and nose, and I bumped my chin on her scrawny collarbone. 'I love you, John! I've given you everything! You can't expect me to just stand by quietly while you run after another woman—'"
~ Dr. Maurine Dorsett-Burton:
"The years had hardly touched her. Girl into woman, she still stood poised and slender. The gesture with which she smoothed and shaped the dark hair that swept down to the nape of her neck in a loose coil was familiar as yesterday.
"'Well?' Faint scorn tinged her tone, her glance. The cool, intelligent eyes measured me as if I were a laboratory specimen."
~ Mrs. Nordstrom:
"The sad-faced woman was ahead of me at the counter. A customs man had her stuff spread out all over the counter. An octagonal metal case about eight inches each way stood in the center of it. The inspector was tapping the case and shaking his head."
~ Zero, head of the Mechanists:
"The Society of Mechanists requires that its members accept strict discipline, Four-four—and for an agent on a mission as vital as Project X the standards are ten, a hundred, a thousand times as rigorous as they are for an ordinary worker. . . .
"You say a man's human, Four-four. But you're not a man. You're a Mechanist. The Society's works means more than you, more than your feelings. We can't afford to let this project fail. You'll have to go ahead according to plan."
~ Narla Cherritt:
"I stood there—fists clenched, breathing hard—while she dragged herself up, eyes fearful and uncertain. Her mouth opened as if to speak, then closed again. Without a word, she turned and limped off down the hall."
"Heffner closed the door after me. He was a little man, bent and spindle-thin. His features were pinched, his skull balding. His fingers trembled so much he had trouble with the bolt."
~ General Karl Aneido, chief of the FedGov security system:
". . . a heavy-set, middle-aged man in formal FedGov uniform moved into the scope-screen's frame. He walked like a bear. His cuffs bore the triple planets of a general officer, while his shoulder-patch carried the silver shield and black dagger of the Security Service."
~ Fred Caudel:
"A man came out—the same tall, too-handsome man I'd met—unpleasantly—at Maurine's office. The one she'd called Fred."
"A woman stood by the door. She had red hair and a mouth to match, and her short spangled jacket was too small across the chest."
"He bent to straighten out a cable. He did it with a neat precision that said order meant a lot to him. So did his appearance, for that matter—every hair in place, clothes that might as well have been a uniform, the bleak lack of color of his face and voice. There were a lot like him in the Society."
~ The neurotron/pulsator/com-set:
"I rubbed my elbow past the neurotron taped flat to my ribs; ran my hand over the spare strapped against my belly. A wonderful little invention, the neurotron. Given that, and my pulsator, and my com-set, I could go anywhere. Anywhere!"
~ The Schweidler bipolaroid selector:
"I clicked down the button without speaking, and got up and went over to the window. It was the usual plasticon, cheap and beginning to warp, but with a Schweidler bipolaroid selector so that you could cut off the outside light when you wanted to go to sleep—a handy thing on a satellite like Luna, where the days seem to last forever."
"Below me, autotrans spun along the ramp-spanned streets that sliced between the build-ings' dull spun-doloid walls like lines in some complicated geometric problem. Beyond the buildings outside the transparent shell that held the artificial atmosphere, the port spread in a gray-brown desert plain spiked with ramped silver spaceships. Far off I could see the shim-mering green ripples that were the hydroponic tubes."
~ The "shorties":
"'Our laboratories have a shielding system. It's based on the fact that the human mind is actually an electrical device, a sort of organic computer and selector.'
"'Our shield is electrical, too. It's keyed to the same frequency as the human brain. When-ever anyone who's not insulated wanders into its field, it throws out tracer charges—not strong enough to kill, but so heavy that they short-circuit the brain synapses.'
~ Lunar cuisine:
"They called the place the Moon-Room. A replica of Luna, as seen from Earth, hung like a dim gold crescent against the deep blue of the artificial sky. Stars twinkled, and an aromador brought subtle fragrances of forests and streams and wind-swept hills. A thread of faint, languorous melody sighed and rippled on the climatizer's gentle breeze.
"I gulped a vidal, then ordered spiked loin of rossa, seared in lorsch, with doralines from Mars and a salad of Ionian tabbat stalks.
"It was good food. The rossa measured a full two inches thick, deep pink straight through, the fibers so tender from the infradation that my fork sliced them like a knife. The quince-tinted tabbat stalks—not one longer than a tarosette—had been gathered at the peak of their delicate flavor.
"I ate slowly, savoring every mouthful. Afterwards, there was thick Venusian ronhnei coffee, then more vidal. This time I didn't gulp it."
~ The perceptoscope:
"Slowly, as the tubes warmed, the scope's screen began to glow. A dim image took form. Humming, I adjusted the focusing dials. The image sharpened, till it was as if I were looking through a window into the adjoining room."
~ Lunar diversions:
"I wandered among cases and cages where eye-stalks waved and mandibles bumped plasticon as they reached for me. Pseudopodal horrors from the cave-swamps of Mercury's Twilight Zone oozed in and out of crevices. Voices went shrill, and men jumped back. There was even a monstrous, ten-tentacled poison zanat, swimming in a sealed tank of refrigerat-ed ammonia and methane."
~ The projectoscope:
"Then, in a flash, the scene changed. The same woman, younger this time, stood laughing by a table, holding a candle-sparkling birthday cake. The next instant she lay in bed—old again, eyes and cheeks sunken. . . .
"Again, Aneido brought up his hand. 'The technical details mean nothing to me, Doctor Burton. As I told you last night, the practical applications are all I'm interested in. If this device will show men's thoughts so that I can uncover secret Meks, that's all I ask.'"
~ The hypnojector:
"'Such a deep sleep. . . .' Nine-seven whispered. 'So deep, so deep. Your muscles are like water. . . .'"
~ Project Q ("a sort of electro-biochemical pantograph"):
"'The only part important to us is Kronkite's idea that the weights were subject to change, through metabolism. Complex cellements break down into simple by Katabolism, liberating energy. Simple cellements build up to complex by anabolism, using the energy supplied by catabolism or drawn from such outside sources as sunlight.' . . .
"'Kronkite's theory is the key,' Nine-seven explained. 'Once you isolate your basic celle-ments, you can metabolize them according to any predetermined pattern by electrosynthe-sis.'"
Typos: "Maurine looked at the case, then at Aneida"; "somewhere near, an autoran droned"; "I grouped for words"; (missing quotation marks in many places).
- For more on our author Dwight V. Swain see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- While the results are still far from conclusive, technology is now being applied to reading people's thoughts; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
The bottom line: "The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office."
— Robert Frost