"Population: Zero"

(Original air date 01/18/74)

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Steve investigates the cause of a mysterious illness that
supposedly decimated a small town

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Writer: Elroy Schwartz

Director: Jeannot Szwarc



On a routine run, policeman Paul Cord (Paul Carr) drives through the small town of Norris to note with great horror that all the inhabitants appear to be dead. He relays the startling discovery to his superior before going to investigate.

Minutes later, he is stricken by an excruciatingly painful headache. He crawls over to his motorcycle to forbid anyone to come near the town before he collapses.

Up on the hill in a mobile electronic lab, Dr Stanley Bacon's (Don Porter) face lights up in triumph at his successful experiment with ultrasounds, convinced this little incident will undoubtedly attract the Armyís attention.

           

In his own auto shop, Steve is doing some repairs on a buggy when he gets a visit from Oscar who informs him that heís on his way to shed light on the incident at Norris. In spite of Oscarís orders not to get involved, Steve insists on traveling to the troubled small town he remembers from his college years.

Steve arrives in Norris and meets with General Harland Tate (Walter Brooke). After briefing him on the situation at hand, Tate introduces Steve to Dr. Chris Forbes (Penny Fuller) to get her thoughts on the probable cause of death.

           

Steve dons his space suit that he had NASA delivered to the base camp as protection against any air-born virus that might be responsible for the inhabitantsí death. While walking through town, he is horrified to number his good friend Joe Taylor (Paul Fix) as one of the victims. As he proceeds further down the road, he is astonished to see everyone slowly rousing as though they were just awakening from a deep sleep.

           

At the base camp, Steve happily informs Oscar of the turn of events who nonetheless chides him for disobeying orders. Outside, Dr. Bacon wanders on site anonymously and casually enquires about the Armyís business in the area. He is more than happy to learn that Oscar Goldman is responsible for this detachment.

Later, Dr. Forbes questions one of the victims, Mrs. Nelson, (Virginia Gregg) on her ordeal. Her awful pains and sensation of someone sneaking up on her before passing out corroborates all of the other inhabitantsí accounts.

           

Dr. Forbes suggests pushing the studies further and asks Steve to find her a suitable candidate to submit to the narcotic test. Steve chooses Joe Taylor who, after being injected the Pentothal, gives a minute-to-minute account of what occurred before he felt his head ready to burst. The pain intensifies to such a degree that the man becomes violent. He spring out of his cot, steals an automatic weapon from one of the guards and threatens Steve to make his pain stop or heíll kill him. At that moment, Steve leaps on him like a leopard in order to subdue him.

           

Officer Cord provides the last piece of the intriguing puzzle with his explanation that his pain begun right after removing his helmet. Steve infers to ultrasounds emitted by a source in the vicinity.

Steveís hunch is right on the nose. No far away in a condemned hangar, Bacon informs his associate, Harry Johnson, (Stuart Nisbet) that their plan is working like a charm. Next on the agenda is to ask for a ransom.

Back at the base camp, Steve learns from Oscar through the teletype of an old project involving ultrasounds run by Dr. Bacon that the OSI dropped for lack of funds. Afterwards, Bacon vanished without a trace and is now actively sought by the FBI.

           

Outside the tent, a helicopter drops sheets of paper onto the ground. Written on them is a demand for a 10 million dollar ransom. Should the government fail to honour that request, Bacon will hit full force on a larger scale, this time leaving no survivors.

While waiting for Oscarís words on the ransom money, Steve and Dr. Forbes engage in a friendly conversation, one that veers round to the topic of his special nature to which a sensitive Steve is adamantly against discussing, for he loathes being treated as a vulgar scientific subject.

           

Oscar regrettably informs Steve that the government has decided not to pay the ransom, a decision based on the computer confirmation that Baconís three-year-old project is not powerful enough to decimate an entire town. He orders Steve to remain on stand-by until he gets to the base camp.

Steve goes over Oscarís head and asks General Tate for an armoured truck to drive to the rendezvous point in order to convince Bacon heís delivering the money. There, Steve confesses the truth to the masked men who quickly knock him out and bring him to their leader.

Meanwhile Oscar arrives at the base camp and is angry that Steve has pulled the stunt without his prior consent.

           

Inside the abandoned factory, Bacon runs a Geiger counter on Steveís body he suspects to be a cyborg. He marvels over Rudy Wellsí achievement but is nonetheless miffed that the government would have opted to pursue the cyborg project over his own.

Steve is shocked to learn that Bacon was able to perfect his project in the last three years and that contrary to what the OSI main computer issued, it is now powerful enough to kill.

In view of this new information, Steve begs Bacon to contact Oscar in order to renegotiate a deal, but too late. Bacon is determined to teach them a lesson by hitting the small base camp, killing everyone including Goldman and his precious cyborg.

           

Bacon instructs his men to lock Steve inside a freezer with a small oxygen tank. While the cold gradually numbs Steveís bionic limbs, Bacon and his men drive the mobile lab up on the hill overlooking the base camp and calibrate the instruments for the final blow.

Meanwhile, Oscar gets word that Baconís project can be deadly if provided with enough volts to generate the ultrasounds. In view of this, he contacts Johnson at the power plant to warn him of a possible illegal connection, unaware that the man is acting in connivance with Bacon.

           

In his icy prison, Steve engineers an escape plan by using his oxygen tank as a cutting device. With great difficulty, he succeeds in breaking out and staggers out of the hangar.

He pushes hard to reach the van in time, stumbling along the way as his bionic legs and arm gradually return to full power.

           

He pulls a pole out of the ground and hurls it through the van to silence the ultrasounds.

           

Days later, Oscar is happy to report that the FBI has apprehended Baconís men, including the power plant dispatcher. He thanks Steve for saving his life, after which he leaves him with Dr. Forbes who is interested in getting better acquainted with the human side of Steve Austin.

     

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