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Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.
                                        --Wernher von Braun

 

Blang Forstrum was a patient man. Two decades earned him maybe the role of the world's most patient man.

Of course, he wasn't a man at all when he first thought stuff that would be part of his latest scheme. Just a kid during those Crawling, on the planet's face. Some insects, called the Human Race. Lost in time, and lost in space... and in meaning.|boring nights]; made more pleasant and tolerable looking up at stars, planets -- that if you really peered at with a concentrated stare, would show their colors. And then the cloud that wasn't a cloud at all, but a Milky Way made up of masses of burning nuclear globes in one of our own spiral galaxy's arms.

Had to be a better place than Bungalow, ND.  Living with grandma since Dad forced Mom to move far away, and then they put that abuser away for good.  Trouble in school, always staring out the window, doodling space craft, trouble getting a GED; trouble in the Army, he wanted to do things his way;  but then as an unemployed young man, he went to the local Career Developmental Center and took all the courses for electrical work.  Not only did he thrive, but Blang found his niche, he was darned good with anything that had nano or macro voltage running through it.  It was like that juice ran through his veins too.

With help from the Center, Forstrum got a scholarship to SDIT.  He was a bit older than the other students; even later when he was accepted to grad school.  The lack of social opportunities didn't faze him one iota, he excelled here.  When he was asked to speak to the school, he simply said, "Thanks for helping take me to where I gotta go."  But to himself, he added, "Somewhere you couldn't even dream of."  That place would not be NASA;  though to get there he was Florida bound, because that was only the starting place.

He was one of many NASA technicians that worked on the ground, his background check good enough for this role, wouldn't put him in any flights, however.  But, his dream was bigger than any obstacle, not even the security ones.  He'd stolen a flight suit, a big coup, they blamed the cleanup lady, he was just too good a techie for them.

Finally it was April 10, one night before the launch, the first manned mission to Mars, but that's not where he wanted to end up; no it would be much further, much further. He was going to borrow the ship when the crew disembarked, "Don't worry!" he thought since he planned to pick them back up.  He managed to sneak to the ramp, a few steps and he'd be inside.  He'd already studied the blueprints, and knew just where to go.  Spare compartment number G-380, a deliberate redundancy built in to bring back specimens, live.

He was sweating profusely in his suit, (as it was not turned on yet), which he specially modified with feeding modules, and the means to also later put him in suspended animation, and recycle gases to keep him alive practically indefinitely.  Finally he made it through the hatch.  Using his own infrared and other night vision devices attached to his helmet, he worked his way-- like he was in his own apartment --to his hiding place, the retrieval cache.  He would sleep until he needed to be awakened to be alert.  It would only be a matter of hours, now.

Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt! A sound permeated the fog, his proximity alarm; he peered through his fiber optical thread he left in the crack of the door.  There was a crew out and about, if they happened to open his door, he was behind the piles of tarp kept here.  That last idea of protective covers for the field was his --that he'd manage to sneak into the planning committee's files.  But, he could sense that all was routine, and he went back into a life saving stupor.

Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt! That buzzing klaxon awoke him once more, as he moved the tiny thread of what served as his peephole allowed him to see what looked like re-embarking.  They had already landed and were getting ready for the return trip!

Next he saw them coming with a container towards his hideout, he quickly ducked cleverly under the tarps, as he heard the team leader talking: "These samples we found, show there is organic life here on Mars, there was no way the Martian Rover bot could get to these in that cave on the equator.  They'll be okay in here, as long as there's no other organic life forms near them.  Not sure, but they look like they're the predator that finished off all the rest of the life here."

Then they were gone.  As he switched on his infrared and night vision, he moved closer to the container, it looked like ordinary Tupperware (tm) and he reached out to touch it with his special gloves with sensors.  Certainly he would be safe to see the first life found extra-terrestrially.  He flipped the catches open, (I guess they thought it didn't need to be locked), and checked out their big find.  It was just a greenish gray glob.  He gingerly touched it, and then put everything back as it was.  He wouldn't be able to commandeer the ship, so he would have to just wait until they get back.  So back off to hibernation dreamland he traveled.

Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt!  This time when he came out of his reveries, he felt different, lighter, and the last thing Blang Forstrum would ever see was the greenish gray glob sliding into his mouth and lungs.

 

Sweet-a-Hitch-a-Hiker,
Won't you ride on my fast machine?

Cruising on through the junction,
I'm flying 'bout the speed of sound,
Noticing peculiar function,
I ain't no roller coaster show me down.

I turned away to see her,
Whoa! she caught my eye,
But I was rolling down, moving too fast...

 

                                                                         --CCR

"The Hitch-Hiker" is the sixteenth episode of "The Twilight Zone" and was first broadcast in January of 1960. It was written by Rod Serling, and based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher. It starred Inger Stevens as vacationing woman Nan Adams and Leonard Strong as the titular hitch-hiker. It also has a small role by Eleanor Audley, a famous voice actress.

We meet Nan Adams as she has started out her cross-country vacation. She has had a minor traffic accident, and the tow truck driver comments that she must have been lucky because the accident looks like it should have been worse. (Veteran or even occasional Twilight Zone viewers will probably say "uh-oh" at this point.) As she leaves the scene of the accident, she sees a man waiting for her. She thinks nothing of it, until she seems him further down the road. As she crosses the country, the man is always shadowing her, but when she mentions it to others, they seem to not be able to see the mysterious hitch-hiker. (Aforementioned viewers are doubling their "uh-ohs" at this point). Trying to return to a sense of normalcy, Nan calls home only to have a shocking revelation that provides the twist ending to the story.

The milestone here is that this is the first Twilight Zone episode where the protagonist is female. And it might be seen as somewhat problematic that the first Twilight Zone episode to feature a female protagonist is a story about her being stalked by mysterious forces. But then, being stalked by mysterious forces is hardly an unusual circumstance in The Twilight Zone. The gender difference doesn't seem to have that much effect on the plot, other than a few places where customs seem a bit quaint. Otherwise, this is a well-told story about a mysterious threat that is not as threatening as it at first appears.

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