Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction February 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
_The dilemma of "The Man in the White Suit" was but a minor irritation compared to Charles and his "all-weather" suit!_
THE STANDARDIZED MAN
BY STEPHEN BARTHOLOMEW
The turbocar swiped an embankment at ninety miles an hour; the resultwas, of course, inevitable. It was a magnificent crash, and the driverwas thrown clear at the end of it for a distance of 50 feet.
Charles looked at the body and got his bright idea.
* * * * *
The trouble had started a couple of weeks before, when Edwin, Charles'laboratory co-ordinator, had called him into his office just beforeCharles was due to leave for home. It was a distinct breach ofetiquette to cause a worker to arrive home at any time besides hisaccustomed hour, so Charles knew whatever Edwin wanted must beimportant. He sat down opposite the Co-ordinator and assumed apolitely questioning look.
"Charles, you know I wouldn't call you here at this hour if it wasn'timportant," Edwin said, pursing his lips.
"Of course not, sir," Charles replied, waiting.
"The fact of the matter is, we are in dire straits." Edwin stared atthe other ominously. "As you well know, the Textile Industry, likeevery other business firm in the world, has functioned entirelywithout economic troubles of any sort for the past fifty years."
"Well, of course, sir...."
"And you are also well aware of what would be the results of anyfinancial deviation in any of these firms, particularly in a majorindustry such as our own."
"Certainly, sir. Ours is a delicately balanced economic system. Anyslight change in the economic status of one firm would...."
"Exactly!" Edwin leaned across the desk and glared at him. "I havejust come from a Board of Directors meeting. And it was made known tous that during the past three weeks our margin of profit has fallenoff by three tenths of a per cent!"
Charles' face turned pasty white. He swallowed and took a deep breath.
"Will that information be made public, sir?"
"Naturally not! But we aren't sure just how long we can keep it asecret! The fact of the matter is, the IBM says that our profit marginwill continue to spiral downward at a gradually increasing rate unlesssome drastic change occurs in our production set-up!"
Edwin leaned back and clasped his hands, composing himself. "Theprecise reasons for the existence of the situation are quite obscure.However, the IBM has informed us that the problem can be remedied ifwe make a particular change in our production system, and it hasinformed us as to the nature of that change."
He stood up and placed a finger on a capacitance switch. A panel inthe Wall slid back to reveal six sales charts. There were two eachmarked _Winter_, _Summer_ and _Spring-Fall_. Three were designated_marlons_, and three _marilyns_. Each of them showed a red line risingsteeply on the left, levelling out to a perfectly straight bar all theway across, then dipping sharply again.
"Look here," Edwin said. "These are the sales charts for our sixsuits. As you know, we make three different types for marlons, andthree for marilyns. Hot-weather, cold-weather, and medium-weather.Each suit is designed to last a carefully calculated length of time,and each consumer need only buy three suits a year. They are exactlyalike except for slight size differences, and because of elasticfabrics these differences are held to a minimum. With this system theTextile Industry attained the ultimate in Standardization, theultimate in efficiency."
Charles rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Has the IBM suggested anyalternative to our system, any possible change?"
Edwin sat down again, folded his arms on the desk, and scowled."That's where you come in! The IBM informs us that there is only onepossible way to stabilize our economy, to raise our profit margin toits former level--and that is by further standardization!"
Charles raised his eyebrows. "You mean a sexless wardrobe, sir? That'sbeen tried...."
"No, that's _not_ what I mean!" Edwin snapped. "What I mean is an_all-weather suit_!"
Charles swallowed audibly at that and said nothing.
"You can see the advantages, of course," Edwin explained. "We'd needonly to manufacture two types of suit, marlon and marilyn. Since we'dnever have to adjust our factories, we could drop a lot of unnecessarytechnicians, and with the further standardization, manufacturing wouldbe faster and cheaper--a _lot_ cheaper. The consumer would onlypurchase one suit a year, but we could make up for that by raising theprices somewhat."
Charles finally got a word in. "But, _sir_! An all-weather suit? Howcan we design a suit that will be equally comfortable in the middle ofa Florida heat-wave or a New England snowstorm?"
"How? _How?_" Edwin's voice raised and his finger pointed. "_You're_the research chemist, Charles! You're supposed to tell _me_ how!"
"Listen!" Edwin poked the other in the chest. "I assume you know whatwill happen to Society if the Textile Industry becomes economicallyunstable?"
"Well, yes sir, but...."
"Then I assume you realize that the Board of Directors will stop atnothing to preserve the status quo! And since you happen to be ourchief industrial chemist, the entire problem lands in your lap! Now,we want to know how to make an all-weather suit, and we want to know_fast_. Therefore, Charles, you're going to tell us how to do it!Understand?"
Charles nodded unhappily. "Yes sir, I understand."
* * * * *
Charles went to work the next day after informing his wife that shecould expect him to begin keeping rather irregular hours at thelaboratory. The idea of any kind of irregularity was enough to worryany wife, and Ingrid was the naturally suspicious type. She was alwaysnagging and had, upon occasion, even gone so far as to insinuate thatCharles had individualist tendencies.
So he knew that she would, embarrassingly, call Edwin to check up onhim, but he didn't really care.
The real problem was the all-weather suit.
Charles put his small corps of assistants on the project,investigating several lines of thought at once. Every day, someonewould drop around for a while to check on his progress, and he had nodelusions about what would happen if he failed. The entire economicstability of his society depended on his coming up with an all-weathersuit, and he began to have trouble sleeping nights.
Eventually, he found what looked like a workable solution.
He called Edwin to tell him about it, and Edwin came down to the labto see for himself.
"Is _this_ it?" he asked, picking up what looked like a burlaphandkerchief.
Charles cleared his throat. "Well, that's the first sample, sir. Ofcourse, it's possible to obtain a finer weave once we find out a fewthings about it, and when it's bleached...."
Edwin nodded impatiently. "Yes, yes. Well, what's so special aboutit?"
"Well, it's made of a radically new type of fiber, sir...."
"How's it new?"
"I can show you more technical data on it, sir, but basically thedifference between this and conventional types of fiber is that thisis thermostatic."
"How do you mean, thermostatic?"
"Well, sir, basically, the diameter of the fiber is inverselyproportional with the temperature. When the temperature rises, thefiber contracts, and when the temperature drops, it expands. So incold weather, you have a fine, tight weave with good insulation, andin warm weather you have a loose weave with ventilation...."
; Edwin nodded and dropped the fabric on a lab bench. "Sounds good."
"Well sir, we have to make a few more tests on it, and it'll have tobe field tested before we can decide if it's safe to use ingarments...."
Edwin tapped him on the shoulder. "Test it, Charlie."
Edwin frowned. "We don't have as much time as you think. We need thatsuit of yours _fast_. We can't afford to waste any more time putteringaround the laboratory. You have the fellows downstairs make up some ofthis stuff into a Standard suit, and I want you to put it on yourself.What I mean is, _today_!"
Charles' jaw dropped. "Today! But...."
"No buts! Wear it a couple of days, and if you say