Deep in the Zemlian Deserts of Subconscious Thoughts Sector 26, far inland from the red rocky outcrops and silvery pale sand that skirt its edges, in the virgin regions of rugged yellow terrain where the striated phosphorus deposits on the infertile top soil still glow a swirling sea of pale alien green at night, stands a solitary gas station.
The visitors to the station are few, of the order of about 0.143962 every day, but the inhabitants of the gas station are constant: two, every day.
They are human, and except for the Subconscious Thoughts Immigration Regulatory Committee, nobody clearly knows how they got here from their native birthplace, the Earth. That piece of information, however, is not as important in this context as why they are here. Why they did not, like almost all the other humans checking into the Subconscious Thoughts Arrival Ports, opt for one of the fourteen high demand dreamland destinations. They wouldn’t care for The Flower Garden, that blissful abode of peace in the half-shadows of the giant boughs and little weaving streams, or Motorbahn City, where life changes every moment and everything is possible, or even the exotic Seven Seas of uncountable beautiful colours (including all seventeen dream colours) and its unimaginable horizons and alien and beautiful perspectives.
They chose a tiny exiled gas station on the Trans-Zemlian Highway, a deserted isolation on an isolated desert which was perhaps of no other use than to bear a single straight strip of asphalt through its barren heart, connecting the Vius X and Emyon fuel and lodging joints on opposite ends of the desert on the Inter-Sector Freeway 25-27.
But I know why they chose the gas station. They chose it because there is not another living being (except the inert ones like the desert sands and the wind) in a radius of 57 miles around it; there is always food and water and anything else they might need right in the little station (it is almost always so in Subconscious Thoughts); there is an attached bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom. The phosphorus deposits glow each night in swirling tendrils and streaks across the dry lunar surface, and a skyful of dazzling stars come out, a distinct band of numerous white dots scattered from horizon to horizon, so clear and numerous that they distinctly outline the uneven crest of the rocky outcrops a mile off the highway on the opposite side. Somewhere in that milky arm of the galaxy, the two humans know there resides an average star system whose third planet nourishes life, hope and a churning blue coat of the miraculous liquid that was the beginning of it all, and that it had been their home in a time left far behind. Perhaps it would not be irrelevant here to mention that they can imagine all these things because Sector 26 lies on the opposite arm of the galaxy than Earth.
Every morning as the fiery Nova Curtis rises on the horizon, the boy (his age on the Subconscious Thoughts Immigration Register is seventeen Earth years) wakes to make coffee. Having done this, he wakes the girl (registered as eighteen Earth years old) who makes breakfast, something the boy hasn’t tried since an unreported alimentary disorder of both beings that occurred on the third day of their arrival, which I have reason to believe was caused by the boy.
A few Earth hours (they still keep Earth time) after Nova rise, they set off on the compact all-solid-terrain explorer, each day for a new unplanned destination, leaving heavy phosphorus-laden clouds of yellow dust in their wake. When they reach the particular rugged outcrops they had never set off to visit, they dismount and explore the region on foot. They do not do surveying work, for it has been observed that they scale rugged peaks that were better left alone, roll down slopes of silvery sand, discover caves and sometimes (if they happen to be farther than 57 miles from the station) one of the strange creatures of Zemlia in them.
In case of any vehicle that might need a refuel at their station, the two humans are warned beforehand through the Universal Thought Transmission Network. The job is carried out by invisible Subconscious Feelers planted all along the trans-Zemlian Highway and at the two joints. As soon as any vehicle leaves either Emyon or Vius X, it is checked for fuel by the Feeler at the joint. If the level is low, it sends out a thought pulse to the first desert Feeler on the Highway. When the vehicle reaches this Feeler on the highway, the Feeler feels it and computes its average speed from the time lapsed since the first pulse. This is used to estimate the time the vehicle will need to reach the gas station. The next Feeler on the road again computes this time when the vehicle reaches it to obtain a slightly more precise value. When five Feelers have improved upon the result of this calculation, a thought pulse is sent after a computed interval from the station to the two humans, wherever they happen to be, informing them of the approaching visitor, so that they may return in time for the service.
It seems like too much hassle, but there is some mysterious reason that the two humans did not want to be stuck at the station all the time, and wander around a bit in the desolate nothingness, and hence decided to arrange such a complicated mechanism. Besides, like I said, they only get about one visitor a week.
So we may not be wrong in concluding that the job they had opted for in Subconscious Thoughts, over exotic tours in the various beautiful sectors, was to explore the mysterious Zemlian desert all day, return at Nova set with the explorer leaving a trail of glowing green phosphorus dust in the dusk sky, watch a skyful of stars through the silent night, and wake the next morning to meet again the cup of coffee and their simple life of three rooms, an explorer, a gas nozzle and a desert. This was their choice, their job, their compulsion, day after day. I have not tracked their private life (it was barely two lives) beyond satisfying the preliminary curiosity I had, but I have a nagging suspicion somewhere to believe that they made a good choice, that they managed to do the impossible in a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere that could not boast the possibilities of Motorbahn, nor the peace and tranquility of the Flower Garden, nor the breathtaking beauty of the Seven Seas: they lived a happy life.