Invisible One, by Neil R. Jones

Starting to get exhausted by all these invisibility posts! But I’m going for 30 straight days of blogging, then I’ll rest.

The scene:

In her Ohio home on the outskirts of the 26th Century metropolis of Cincinnati, Moira Presby softly hummed a current air and eagerly awaited the return of her husband who had been called away suddenly that evening on promising business. She was as happy as people of the earth were expected to be happy under the joint rule of the Durna Rangue, a semi-scientific cult, and the space pirates.

Okay, so in the future the Earth is being ruled by a semi-scientific cult, and… space pirates???

I must admit that this introduction, which explains how the cultists joined with space pirates to take over the Earth and keep out the “Interplanetary Guard,” did not leave me optimistic about the quality of “Invisible One” by Neil R. Jones, which appeared in the September 1940 issue of Super Science Stories.

However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised! Though it is by no means a classic of the genre, it is an intriguing “invisibility caper” that had enough cleverness to it to keep me reading.

The story begins, as the quote above indicates, with Moira Presby waiting at home for her husband. When a knock at the door arrives, however, it is not Ollon waiting for her but agents of one of the pirate lords, Gren Haberly, who has taken a fancy to Moira and kidnaps her for his personal harem.

Ollon sets out at once to free her and kill Haberly, even though the mission is certain suicide. While he waits in ambush, however, he overhears Haberly talking with one of the members of the Durna Rangue cult. Haberly seeks to kidnap yet another woman from Mars, and seeks an invisible agent of the cult to do the job. The cult is not willing to send one of their own agents, but is willing to render invisible an operative of Haberly’s choice, to fulfill both his mission and an espionage mission for the cult on Mars. The catch? The operative will be required to work for the cult ever after, and will be permanently invisible.

Ollon sees his opportunity. When Haberly puts out a call looking for someone to take the job, he volunteers, and is soon subjected to the invisibility process. But how can he appear to accomplish the mission of the cultists and pirates while in fact freeing his wife?

As I noted, this story really is an “invisibility caper.” Ollon puts together a surprisingly clever plan to use his newfound powers as well as Haberly’s resources against him and the cult, while simultaneously rescuing Moira and getting both of them to safety. The rather silly worldbuilding and generic characters doesn’t detract from the joy of seeing Ollon accomplish his goals.

And how is invisibility achieved by the cult? Neil Jones doesn’t have to explain much, because of course it is a secret held by a cult, who aren’t inclined to share:

The hypnotic eyes of an Asurian locked his own in a numbing, all powerful embrace, and he sank into a swelling ocean of unconsciousness. He never recalled any of the operation which made him invisible. From what little the Asurians had told him, he realized that as long as he lived he would stay invisible, the treatment coordinating with and depending upon his life forces and circulatory system. To the eight principal functions of the human body was added a ninth closely linked with absorption and assimilation. Ollon realized that certain glands had been altered in his body and that his blood had all been removed and had been subjected to a process before it was replaced. Strange forces, coupled with penetrating rays, had coursed through his bloodless body, and again they were used after his life fluid had been replaced, and Ollon came to his senses to find himself invisible.

“Penetrating rays” is a pretty common invisibility trope. Numerous authors, starting with H.G. Wells, have imagined that the invisible nature of X-rays can be imparted into living tissue, rendering the subject invisible.

One interesting detail in the story that I enjoyed is the idea that, like most medical procedures, the invisibility treatment comes with side effects. The cultists keep him under observation for several days due to debilitating episodes that linger for a while after being made invisible:

Several hours after his return to consciousness, a blinding dizziness overcame Ollon, and his body throbbed like a generator. He found himself helpless, and then after the better half of an hour this unnatural physical discomfort wore off, and he was himself once more. During the next day and a half, he had two more of these attacks, but they lacked the severity of the first.

This story distinguishes itself in my mind because it is one of the few that shows how someone could use the power of invisibility to really manipulate people. The most famous invisibility stories tend to focus on the destructive capability of the power, but Jones focuses on misinformation and deception.

I’ve uploaded the story here for you to read.

One last note: the following passage of the story made me smirk:

A plane of the Durna Rangue bore him back to Haberley, and one of the priests escorted him into the surprised and wondering presence of the space pirate. Haberley groped a reaching hand and felt of Ollon’s body.

It should be noted that the invisibility treatment requires Ollon to be naked — there is a passage explaining how the treatment also provides resistance to the elements — and I chuckled imagining Haberley groping an invisible naked man!

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