“It’s not a convenience store! There’s nothing convenient about it. It’s a gas station. It will always be a gas station. That’s the whole reason to go there.” Sam was adamant about the nomenclature of the tiny building, one of only four in the entire tiny town of Dumpsville, Kansas. The others were the post office, the tiny combination town hall/police station/jail/schoolhouse, and a restaurant that had closed for the season while the owner was traveling to the asteroid belt. Sam had lived in this town nearly his whole life, save that wonderful month he lived in a tent outside the Imperial Palace in Vegas on a bet. He won that bet, and it was enough money to last a lifetime, if you were a hamster.
“Not so, Sam. People go inside for coffee and drinks, sometimes beer, and they never get a single drop of gas. It’s more convenient than going all the way to Solomon. So convenience store. It’s right in the name.” Henry frequently disagreed with Sam on general principle, and general principal, being the head administrator of the school as well as the mayor and chief of police. The multiple hats he wore were never stressful in this town of 230 residents. Except for times when the traffic to the spaceport at Solomon was blocked or rerouted. Then it was a headache, of the sort that makes a city official consider acquiring the town’s first traffic light.
“You know what would be convenient? If they delivered. But they don’t. I have to come all the way out here to get anything. The only thing I NEED to get is gas, so it’s a gas station. Gas. Station. Gas Station. Gas station. Get it through your head, Henry!”
Henry wisely elected to be silent, as just at that moment a strange vehicle arrived outside the Fill ‘Er Up. It appeared not to have wheels. Only the swirling dust coming from the undercarriage hinted at the method of mobility.
A hatch at the top of this vehicle opened, and a person got out of it and dropped heavily to the ground. Even an old man like Henry was conditioned to think of every bipedal ambulatory creature as a ‘person’, avoiding terms like ‘alien’ or ‘gray’. This person was not gray, but wasn’t entirely human either. It, because gender identification was an inexact science at best, walked carefully but deliberately up to the gentlemen sitting on the deck of the town center adjacent to the Fill ‘Er Up. The two men examined the nonhuman with interest.
“Two you. Hu-man. Yes?” Henry put his hand on his service revolver surreptitiously, just in case this person was about to become a person of interest.
“Yes. We’re human. Can I help you, sir, er, uh, madam, or, please?”
“You. More human. How much town?” Henry looked at the alien quizzically, not understanding.
“I think it’s asking us how many people live here in Dumpsville.” Sam turned to the nonhuman. “There are 230 fine folks here in this lovely village. Don’t you worry about that!”
The nonhuman seemed to consider this for a moment, and then spoke a third time. “You. Gas station. How long?”
Sam jumped up and pointed at Henry in triumph, waggling his finger and smiling. “See? I told you, Henry! Even this person calls it a gas station! I was right, and I believe I can now say I’m universally right with a high degree of confidence. In your face, as the youngsters say.”
Henry looked askance at both Sam and the alien, and rolled his eyes in silent acquiescence. “Fine, Sam. Just fine.”
Sam turned to the alien. “Our gas station has been around for 20 years. 20 beautiful Earth years, that is. Wouldn’t change it for anything. Gas station!” He beamed at the alien, who got back in the hovercraft and drove on.
The alien opened a channel, switching to its native language, and began its report. “Humans in Earth settlement: population 230. Unable to discern why the planet appears to be shockingly sparsely populated. Made inquiry about the duration of the human reproductive cycle. Answer explains everything. Gestation period is 20 Earth years. With such a long gravid interval, the sheer number of predators and other dangers ensures low population density in perpetuity.
“Little danger or threat exists from these humans. Recommend immediate invasion.”