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The Hitch Hikers   By:

The Hitch Hikers by Vernon L. McCain

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Transcriber's note: This story was published in If: Worlds of Science Fiction , November 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

Illustrated by Kelly Freas

The Hitch Hikers

The Rell, a great and ancient Martian race, faced extinction when all moisture was swept from their planet. Then, one day, a lone visitor a strange, two legged creature composed mostly of water landed on Mars...


The dehydration of the planet had taken centuries in all. The Rell had still been a great race when the process started. Construction of the canals was a prodigious feat but not a truly remarkable one. But what use are even canals when there is nothing to fill them?

What cosmic influences might have caused the disaster baffled even the group mind of the Rell. Through the eons the atmosphere had drifted into space; and with it went the life giving moisture. Originally a liquid paradise, the planet was now a dry, hostile husk.

The large groups of Rell had been the first to suffer. But in time even the tiny villages containing mere quadrillions of the submicroscopic entities had found too little moisture left to satisfy their thirst and the journey ever southward toward the pole had commenced.

The new life was bitter and difficult and as their resources were depleted so also did their numbers diminish.


Huddled at their last retreat the Rell watched the ever smaller ice cap annually diminish and lived with the knowledge they faced extinction. A mere thousand years more would see even this trifling remainder gone.

Oh, you might say there was hope ... of a sort. There might be Rell in the northern hemisphere. The canals girdled the globe and a similar ice cap could well exist at the opposite pole. Rell perhaps survived there also.

But this was scant comfort. The fate of the Rell in the South was sealed. What hope of any brighter future for those in the North? And if they survived a few hundred thousand years longer ... or if they had perished a similar period earlier, what actual difference did it make?

There was no one more aware of this gloomy future than Raeillo/ee13.

In the old days a single unit of the group mind of the Rell would have possessed but a single function and exercised this function perhaps a dozen times during his life. But due to the inexorable shrinkage only the most important problems now could command mind action and each unit had been forced to forsake specialization for multi purpose endeavors.

Thus Raeillo/ee13 and his mate Raellu//2 were two of the five thousand units whose task was to multiply in any group mind action involving mathematical prediction. Naturally Raeillo/ee13 and Raellu//2 did not waste their abilities in mundane problems not involving prediction. Nor did they divide, add, or subtract. That was assigned to other units just as several million of the upper groups had the task of sorting and interpreting their results. Raeillo/ee13 and Raellu//2 multiplied only. And it must be admitted they did it very well. It is a pity the Rell could not have multiplied physically as easily as Raeillo/ee13 and Raellu//2 multiplied mentally.

With the exception of an occasional comet or meteor the Rell were seldom diverted by anything of a physical nature. The ice cap was their sole concern.

But one afternoon a rare physical phenomenon was reported by a bank of observer Rell.

"In the sky's northwest portion," an excited injunction came through... Continue reading book >>

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