Davi ran around the outbuilding, yelled and banged on the exterior walls again and again. He stopped, stepped onto the cinder block, and peered through the shed's window, his face part-way inside. He squinted and used his talons to block some of the green glare.
A moment later, Skinner opened a train car window and waved to Davi, who didn’t see the gesture because they were no longer on the same planet. Skinner and Lacy Dawn were passengers on a toy train and going someplace else. They sat beside each other, but Skinner stared forward at nothing.
“I can’t think of the right words to say it,” he blurted again.
“I told you before, not so fast,” Lacy Dawn said in a tone that a school principal might have used. “You don’t know me. Let’s get acquainted,” she directed in a softer tone.
“First, I already have a boyfriend, kind of,” Lacy Dawn began. "He's not totally organic yet, but I'm in no hurry for him to grow up. Instead of a boyfriend, I do need an employee. I’m here to offer you a job.”
“A job? That’s what everybody tells me to do. I’ve tried. Nobody will hire me. They say I’m too young. Besides, there ain’t enough jobs to go around for grown-ups. A kid ain’t got a chance at landing a job.”
“I have a good job to offer you, Skinner. Are you interested?”
“Ahh, yeah, I guess. Do I have to steal something?”
“No, you’re not a sinner, Skinner. There won’t be any stealing on my watch. That’s one thing I’m trying to stop. Here’s the deal. This shed is the Monitoring Station for your planet. Since inhabitants of Achaia are sentient, I’m supposed to ensure its continued existence -- to protect it from serious harm that is threatened both internally and externally. I have to prevent its invasion or I might get fired myself.”
“What’s sentinit mean?”
“Smart,” Lacy Dawn answered.
“Well, I ain’t very smart.”
“The job that I’m asking you to think about has been understaffed since before your birth. You are the best replacement candidate to apply for the position after the last manager of this station died. The bottom line is that I have too much on my plate, so to speak, sorry, and I need some help keeping your planet safe. Will you take the job? I do think that you are a cute boy, though.”
“Gosh, thanks. I already knew that I'd never have a girlfriend as good as you. I was just dreaming. Davi will do anything for food, too,” Skinner said.
“Yes. That’s two problems,” Lacy Dawn explained. "First, you are a great guy and any girl would be lucky to have you as her boyfriend. Once you get a little change in your pocket, your self-confidence will improve. So will your love life, but there's plenty of time for that stuff. I don't like dealing with staff turnover. So, if you take this job, I can extend your life with replacement parts for centuries. You will have time for a lot of great girlfriends."
"That sounds too good to be true. But, what does change in my pockets mean? What's a pocket? Mostly, I just want a girlfriend. All the other boys at school say they already have one. Some of them say they have two or three, but I wouldn't want that, unless each one of ‘em brings big lunches."
"Boys your age make up stuff to show off," Lacy Dawn said.
"Yeah, I've noticed.”
"Change in your pocket means money, like money to buy things for you, your family, and your friends, including girlfriends. It makes a difference. You do know what money is, don't you? What I'm saying is that I will pay you a lot of money if you will take this job. And, I expect you to spend the money that you earn by doing good things for other people, such as buying your family enough food. I already know that you will. I've had our Human Resources Department perform its prescreening functions. You passed with flying colors."
"Sure, I know what money is -- something that I ain't got. What's a pocket?"
"It's a place, usually in clothing, where a person puts items that they want to have with them and don't want to misplace. Where do you put stuff like that?"
"In my pouch."
Skinner unbuttoned his shirt and showed her his pouch by reaching inside and pulling out a folded up piece of paper.
"Oh, I didn't realize. What's that?"
"I made you a card," he said and handed it to her. It was the first time since they had gotten on the train that Skinner looked directly at Lacy Dawn.
"Sweet, but let's get back to the second issue, your cousin, Davi."
After reading it, Lacy Dawn put the card in her pocket as Skinner watched. He smiled.
“Populations on several planets are starving – caused by internal and external exploitative practices that Universal Governance works to detect and redirect.”
“That’s not Davi’s fault. He wouldn’t want anybody to go hungry. I know that for sure. You sure talk funny. I don’t understand most of the other stuff that you said ‘cause of too many big words,” Skinner complained. “I’ve already told you that I ain’t smart.”
“You will understand everything soon, Skinner, very soon,” she said. “Okay. I got my job as the Savior of the Universe by getting rid of a bunch of roaches that were messing things up.”
“I hate cockroaches,” he agreed. “How many did you have to squash?”
“None, I found them all a new home named Earth, but that’s a different story. Anyway, my job title sounds good, but I have a lot of bosses. They watch me find, define, and recommend strategies to defeat Evil – actually it’s only a few greedy and powerful individuals who regard profit above the inalienable rights of others – it’s an easy and fun job. I’ll tell you more about it later.”
“You’re starting to use big words again.”
“Sorry. There are lots of people like Davi on Achaia, people who put their own wants above the needs of others, but nobody who lives on this planet is as cool as you. I need you to take this job. It would really help me out. I’m in a pinch.”
“Wow! Nobody has ever called me cool before. That’s the best thing anybody’s ever said about me. But, maybe I’m not the right person for this job. First off, I didn’t understand half of what you’ve said. Besides, Davi’s my cousin. He’s family and he ain’t evil. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t even have a family. I’d be in a lock-up, dead, or I don’t know what. Davi’s okay. Maybe you should stop this train so I can go home. Thanks for thinking that I’m cool.”
Automatically notified of the problem with the recruitment of Skinner for the job, the real Lacy Dawn excused herself from the monthly Board Meeting of Universal Governance. She took personal charge of the hologram that was attempting to hire a replacement manager for Achaia's Monitoring Station. Without Skinner's notice, a flesh and blood girl sat beside him on the train.
“You said that you would never, ever, do nothing wrong again. I heard you say it out your own mouth and I take you at your word,” the real Lacy Dawn began. “The job I want you to take pays good. Your family will never be hungry again, not even Davi. That’s good. Your planet has stuff that Evil wants to steal, like valuable minerals and gases, stuff like that. It don’t care about how many people die as long as it gets what it wants. Maybe everybody will be killed, your own family. That’s wrong. It’s up to you, Skinner. I know how to protect Achaia but I need your help. I'm not saying that Davi’s evil. He's in a tough situation like a bunch of other people. You can help him become a better person. He won't have to steal or lie ever again.”
“I’m so dumb,” Skinner said.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire, and don’t ever say that again,” Lacy Dawn argued.
“Okay. What do you need me to do?”
The real Lacy Dawn returned to her meeting and the hologram took back over.
“It’s easy. Just keep an eye on things, oil the axles of the train’s wheels, clean up this place and keep it that way, send me an occasional report that I’ll tell you about later, and I’ll teach you everything else,” Lacy Dawn's hologram answered. “The most important thing is that this train never stops again, except for scheduled routine maintenance and parts replacements. It submits essential, which means real important, information to a universal database every time it goes through that tunnel.”
She pointed through a train window at the upcoming tunnel.
"You’re the first girl that’s ever told me what I need to do. I wish that you didn't have a boyfriend. I’ll do a good job. I promise. Can I get a kiss on the cheek?”
“Yes, you can have a kiss, but on the forehead and after your six-month standard probationary period for new employees has expired.”
“You’re so real,” Skinner said. “But, you are starting to talk a little funny again.”
“Sorry, I’m still learning my job too. No, I am not real. There are many monitoring stations like this one on thousands of planets. I’m a hologram. Touch me.”
Skinner tried. His fingers went through a perceived forearm
“Maybe my body isn't real, but all of my feelings are true,” Lacy Dawn continued. You have great potential, Skinner, and I expect that you will become not only the most powerful person on this planet, but influential to the workings of the entire universe.”
“You ain’t my girlfriend, are you?” Skinner asked.
“No, but we’ll see about getting you a good one if you do a great job, feed your family, pass in school, and continue to go to church. There are many possibilities for a guy like you.”
Skinner combed talons through his hair and repositioned his tail to achieve a more comfortable and better posture.
Ain’t no turning back now.
“I just wanted a pretend girlfriend anyway. And, I was only going to steal something from the shed so that I could sell it and my family didn’t starve. I’m not really that bad. Now that I’ve got a real job, and maybe I'll have a real girlfriend some day, I can smell the bacon cooking.”
“In a few,” Lacy Dawn agreed and handed Skinner money that he didn't count, but stashed in his pouch.
Thirty Earth minutes before, Davi had given up on banging and yelling. He had also gone to the house and unplugged the extension cord. When he did, the shed had vibrated for a moment. He then went back to the shed and watched as the train circled its tracks.
“Look out the train window, Skinner,” Lacy Dawn said.
He did. There were no houses and cows, or other trappings that he would have expected see on a toy train set. It was black, except for bright speckles and glowing round things.
"This is a piece of our universe from a distance,” Lacy Dawn said. “There’s more than one universe that you will be required to study. You have just begun your mandatory agency orientation for the job. In not too long, you will become the most knowledgeable person on Achaia.”
"Yes sir, I mean, I don’t know what I mean, but just teach me. This whole thing is too cool. Do I have bad breath? Am I okay?”
”You are more than okay, Skinner. You’re going to protect this planet from Evil. Look at that green ball. It’s my home planet,” Lacy Dawn said. “It’s called Earth. Maybe you can visit me sometime.”
“I’ve never been invited to a girl’s house before. But, I don’t think I want to go there if it has a bunch of roaches. I hate roaches.”
“I know that you do. There are two planets named Earth. Most of the roaches moved to the other one, but my planet has more roaches than people, for sure. Would you like to get smarter?”
“Maybe, but stupid has worked pretty good so far, except I stay hungry.”
"Do you trust me?"
"More than I'd trust myself if I hadn't taken this job."
Lacy Dawn held up an IV injection for Skinner to see, tapped it to remove any bubbles, and a small squirt came out.
“It will hurt just a little.”
Skinner sat still. Lacy Dawn numbed his upper spine. She installed a computer port above his hair line and waited for it to heal under the perfect conditions that she had set up. She plugged Skinner into a high security database through which he would continue his on-the-job training. The installation took thirty seconds.
“I like your perfume,” Skinner said as data was being downloaded directly into his brain.
“I’m not wearing any,” the hologram said and tossed her hair again.
"Maybe I'm imagining the smell of the bacon that I'm going to buy with my own money as soon as I get off work today."
"Thanks," she said in sarcastic voice. “Focus on the job," continued in her business voice. “You are on the clock. That means you have been given an advance in salary and are earning money as we ride this train. First, this property is in bad shape. Fixing it up is part of your job. I want you to buy the house that your family lives in and make it look good as well. We don't want any city ordinance violations, or in any way to call attention to this property.”
“I’ll need a mower, a ladder…” he listed.
“You are plugged into that lesson plan now. It will teach you how to do those chores without the need for equipment.”
“This planet is also in bad shape – overzealous Capitalism.”
“Wait a minute! I’ve almost got it! Man, I'm learning stuff so much faster than at school. Okay, how's this? I need a more attractive profit motive. The idea of people wanting to make more money than anyone could spend in a million lifetimes is just too stupid.”
“Dude, you came up with that one on your own. You are still in the manipulation of physical objects lesson plan.” Lacy Dawn said. "But, you are a quick study and you will get to the psychology lesson plan soon enough. Greed is ancient. There’s no big hurry. I was just talking in generalities as you studied. Getting this property cleaned up is the top priority.”
“What’s a generallitee?”
Lacy Dawn ignored the question. She sat still and quiet for three Earth minutes as Skinner learned how to improve property without the need for equipment.
Maybe he has a natural aptitude for economics from having been impoverished. I probably should have kept quiet. If this property doesn’t show significant gains in appearance soon, I could be deactivated. Now that we’ve hired him, there will be constant monitoring of progress. But, I’ve been trained to seize opportune moments. Maybe I should continue to prompt his thinking on resolution of greed. What would Lacy Dawn do? I don’t want to risk bothering her, but if I interfere with his prescribed sequence of job training, it could be considered insubordinate. What the heck, I don’t have a life to lose, just all of my personal memories.
The hologram sighed.
“In the position of manager, what concept can you promote as an alternative to obtaining excessive wealth? What else would motivate people toward planetary survival? What else would facilitate one’s pursuit of individual happiness? Evil doesn’t care about life,” Lacy Dawn asked and closed.
“Life doesn’t value evil,” Skinner said.
I can't believe that I just said that! I am getting smarter.
“We’ll get back to that lesson plan in the near future. For now, just concentrate on today’s studies,” Lacy Dawn said.
The hologram sighed again.
Two minutes later, after having been instructed how, Skinner unplugged himself from the database. He plugged himself back in for practice and the programming began where it had left off. The train slowed. The scenes outside were no longer blurred by the train's speed.
Hairy humanoids roamed, pulled roots, and gathered food. A dirty version of Lacy Dawn waved to the train as it passed.
"That was me,” the hologram said.
“You were kinda pretty, but it sure looked like you smelled rotten,” Skinner joked.
“Well, you have bad breath. I'm just kidding, too. We’re almost finished with your job orientation session for today. Before I leave, pay close attention to this, though.”
Skinner looked directly into Lacy Dawn’s bright blue eyes. Her aura emanated until it filled the train car and seeped out through the open window into the shed.
“When you work for me, everything has to be kept confidential. You can’t tell anybody anything -- not your mother, friends, including girls that you want to impress, planetary authorities, nobody. The information that you learn about the universe could be detrimental if misused. This condition has to be a cross-your-heart promise and I need it now.”
“I ain't no snitch,” Skinner said and made the motion as ordered.
“The penalty for even an accidental breach of classified information is death by crucifixion,” she said. "It's happened once on my planet before I’d been activated. Everybody knows about it at the home office. Some people on Earth still talk about it.”
“I understand that word. It’s popular. Everybody goes around and says it -- you crucify me. It means to really get to somebody, like making them laugh so hard that snot comes out their nose, or something. Right?”
“That’s not even close, Skinner. This is serious. Stop interrupting and just listen. I like you, a lot, and I don’t want to lose you because I didn’t fully explain the implications of the cross-your-heart promise that you made a couple of minutes ago.”
“You like me a lot?”
Lacy Dawn gave Skinner a dirty look.
“There was this great guy named, Jesus. He was the manager of a Monitoring Station on Earth, just like you are today on Achaia, except his station was in a stable instead of a shed. I'd hate to see a cute boy like you nailed to a tree, dangled in the suns with bugs nibbling at your body parts until you died. That’s what crucifixion means. You do understand, right?"
“What did he do to deserve all that? Skinner asked.
“Not much, really, but enough,” she said. “Jesus trusted somebody and violated confidentiality policy by opening up his mouth to this guy named Judas. Information about why Judas turned on Jesus is a little fuzzy. Just don’t let the same thing happen to you. Please be especially careful when you fall in love for the first time. Not all girls can be trusted to keep secrets. Remember this warning as you float on that cloud.”
“You don’t trust girls? Why ain’t there no managers who are girls? At least, you never mentioned any.”
“Girls are too smart to be managers – just kidding. More than half of all managers in this universe are female. I trust each of them implicitly. Trust has nothing to do with gender. I was talking about how many people lose sensibilities when they fall in love.”
“Well, I’m in love with you and it don’t matter that I can’t actually touch you. I’m not one of those kinds of boys. And, I know that it don’t make sense at all. So, I’ll be special careful.”
Robert Eggleton has served as a children's advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a retired children's psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Robert recommends the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.