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This is a short story from an anthology printed before 1997.

  • The main character (MC) is a scientist living in a future dictatorship.
  • The dictator is human but has been made functionally immortal. His eyes look old. He is unfriendly towards science.
  • MC might be a prisoner. He has an electronic tattoo on his arm that can be used to cause him pain if he escapes.
  • MC gets an audience with the dictator, and uses the opportunity to try his secret experimental mind-swapping technique.
  • The swap is a success. MC acts like the dictator to avoid suspicion.
  • The dictator, in MC's body, is sentenced to death and goes on the run. The authorities remotely activate his tattoo and he comes back when he can't stand the pain any longer.
  • The dictator is executed, protesting his real identity to the end.
  • MC plans to slowly change laws to make the society more science-friendly.

2 Answers 2

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This sounds very much like The Great Judge, a short story by A.E. van Vogt, first published in 1948. It has been anthologised several times, notably in Away and Beyond.

The story concerns a scientist called Douglas Aird, who has developed a way of transferring consciousness from one body to another. Unfortunately he lives in an authoritarian society ruled by the "Great Judge", and is condemned to death for suggesting:

that a mere man like Douglas Aird could govern as well as the immortal Great Judge, and that in fact it might be a good idea if someone less remote from the needs of the mass of the people had a chance to promulgate decrees. A little less restriction, he had urged, and a little more individuality...

All citizens of the empire have a "pain circuit" imbedded in their flesh, so that the secret police can just dial up your circuit and inflict upon you a pain that will gradually increase. The police control is so complete that condemned men are allowed to wander around freely for a week before their execution. Aird uses this time to get into the presence of the Great Judge and succeeds in transferring his mind into the Judge's body. He plans to transform the society from a police state into a free state, but "as a scientist he was sharply aware of the need for orderly transition."

Later that week he finds that Aird (holding the Great Judge's mind) had refused to report for termination, and so the pain circuit had been activated. The man, screaming that he was the Great Judge, had then been terminated. The officers reported "“Seldom in the experience of the attending patrol officers has a condemned man approached the converter with so much reluctance.”

The story is available for free loan from the Internet Archive, in Away and Beyond.

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  • 1
    Your last quote was very familiar, but I checked the archive anyway - definitely the one. Thanks. Commented May 22 at 8:52
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    I don't think I have read this story, but just the description of the plot made me think of van Vogt.
    – Buzz
    Commented May 23 at 20:44
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Possibly AE Van Vogt's The Great Judge. I don't recall the bit about the tattoo, but as I haven't read it in many years that could just be lapse of memory.

It ends with someone wryly observing that few people have gone their ecxecution with such reluctance, and that The Great Judge (actually the scientist in his body) "could well believe it".

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  • That's the one, thanks. It turned out what I remembered as a tattoo was an 'electronic instrument "printed" on his upper right arm'. Commented May 22 at 8:57

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