The Dial-Up Demon – Chapter 3: A List of Topics Not to Bring Up in Polite Conversation

“You could have at least brought a little pizza,” I say.

“I am a homeless teenager! I ain’t spending a dime on you,” Amy replies.

“Oh, fine, I’ll make a damn meal.”

I get up from the sofa and let Amy take over the game.

Right now, we’re playing Kimi no Wakaranai Densetsu, an old Super Nintendo game that Chuck gave me as a gift this afternoon. It’s entirely in Japanese and so we’re trying at the moment just to figure out how to start a new file, since all three save slots were already filled up when we turned it on. There is supposedly a co-op mode, but we certainly can’t figure it out right now.

“I feel like you invited me over just to gloat about your new expensive game,” Amy says. “You wanted revenge for how nice I’ve always been to you, so you want to make me hate you even more than I already do.”

I glare at her from behind the kitchen counter. “I’ll make steak if you lay off the insult barrage thing.”

“I’ll be a good girl,” she says.

Nothing like good old fashioned steak to shut people up. And it just so happens I got a couple I was thawing out in the fridge for later.

I think I’ll cook a batch of frozen french fries to go along with the steaks. I have no idea if those two are traditionally paired together anywhere in the world, but in House Harding, they most certainly are.

As I’m getting all the food out and ready to cook, I hear a weird ding sound from the TV. “I think I started a new file!” Amy shouts. I hear some low-quality audio samples of voice acting start to play, which lets me know that the game really has finally started.

“Good! Tell me what happens, if you can understand any of it.”

“There’s a house,” she says. “And scrolling text. And a deep voice person saying things. And the camera goes down. And—”

“Not everything! Only important things!”

If only Karina were here, she could actually translate this game for us in real-time and let us know what the hell is going on.

But she’s not, so we might as well have fun where we can.

I got everything ready and cooking now, so I return to the sofa and sit down next to Amy. She immediately scoots away from me. Even when she’s not saying anything mean, she’s still hurtful…

A long cutscene is playing, with retro video game sprite characters saying text that we can’t read, voiced in a language we can’t understand. Not quite a fun game yet.

“This reminds me, who did you vote for in the mayoral primaries?” Amy asks.

“Whoa now,” I tell her. “There are three topics you are not supposed to bring up in a polite conversation, and politics is one of them.”

She narrows her eyes. “You didn’t even vote, did you?”

“I’m not a member of any party. I can’t vote in any of the primaries that way. I’ll vote in the real one, don’t worry.”

“And who’re you gonna pick, then? I bet it’s the Values Party. You look like a Values kinda person.”

“Hey! You and I both know that’s not funny,” I say. “I’m not voting for a party that denies I’m even a damn person.”

“It’s just a joke, geez.” She rolls her eyes in such an exaggerated fashion that I’m worried she’s actually injured herself.

“Let’s just play the game.”

…The opening cutscene is still going.

You may be laughing at our predicament right now. I would give my middle finger to you, but then you would stop reading, so I will instead be perfectly polite and be the bigger person.

“I’m way in for the Green Party, myself,” Amy says. “I can’t vote yet, but I know they know what’s up. You know what I’m trying to say?”

“I do not.”

“They’re the only ones who care about global warming more than some token thing. You know how much of the forests out West got destroyed because of the war? A ton. Atlanta’s gonna be underwater in a few hundred years if things keep up the way they are.”

“Then that one dream I had may finally come true…”

“Dream?”

“Nothing. I think the Green Party is kinda cool, but they never win anything and their candidates are always a joke. It’s pointless to think about them.”

“That’s the words of a true Labor shill.”

“I never said I was a Labor supporter,” I say. “Aisha Baker’s kinda hot I guess, but I don’t really like her as a politician. I’m more on the lines of…”

“Nathan Nguyen? The asshole who wants to give a robot to every household? What the hell is that gonna solve. I don’t even have a home, so what good’s a robot gonna do?”

“No, but Karina really likes that guy.”

“That bitch?”

“You’re baiting me.”

“Yes, I am. So what?

I ignore her. “I was gonna say Hope Winters might be a good pick for mayor. I actually met her in person once. Really nice gal. Something about her…”

“You vote with your dick, Harding,” she says, making a voice like she’s imitating Mr. Larkins or something. Does she even know him?

“I do not vote with my—Also, don’t insinuate about my genitals or what I do with them. That’s really weird.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to… Nah, just kidding, I totally did. I don’t know why you’re so uppity about all that type of stuff. You should be like me, Amy Hawthorne, a proud pansexual trans woman who’s got the whole world ahead of her.”

“You certainly probably have the ambition that a healthy young fourteen year old should have.”

“Fifteen,” she says. “My birthday was like last week.”

“…Oh. You didn’t even tell me…”

“Who cares about birthdays?” she asks. “They suck anyway, especially when your family isn’t even around to celebrate it.”

“Oh, yeah, that…”

The game finally starts, and Amy, who has the controller, is able to move the main character around in a top-down grid like in an RPG or a Zelda game or something. She proceeds to interact with every object and talk to every NPC in the vicinity. It’s quite aggravating to watch, but with her in control, there is little I can do but flail my arms trying to get her to pass it to me. She does not.

“Just kidding,” she says. “The Holos threw me a huge party for my birthday. We went down into the subway underground and tore apart a storage facility. All the cleaning supplies were just blown up by the end of that.”

“And that’s your real family, so I guess that’s what matters.”

“No, you’re my real family, Morgan,” she says as she begins the first enemy encounter in the game.

“Aw. Except I assume you’re going to follow it up w—”

“You’re like a cute older sibling who is too much of a helpless moron to function alone and needs me there as protection from failing at every turn.”

“But I’m cute.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You literally just did…”

“Slip of the tongue.”

“Was not!”

“Yeah, it wasn’t. You really are cute. In that moronic kind of way.”

“You’re just so rude, Amy! Who taught you your manners?!”

“I learned it from you, Dad.”

“This is going nowhere. And also you’re doing really bad at the battle. Pass me the controller.”

“Give me steak and I’ll give it over.”

“The steaks won’t be done for like, twenty minutes.”

She shrugs. “No food, no game.”

I sigh and let her continue to play. She dies several times in these opening minutes of gameplay, and it is a miracle that a retro game like this would have skippable cutscenes so we don’t have to watch all that incomprehensible Japanese all over again.

So far, the game really does seem like any other generic action RPG game from the early two thousands, only with swordplay that is a grade above its peers. The samurai woman strikes her foes with great 16-bit precision.

And, uh, it’s kinda cool I guess. It certainly isn’t the most remarkable game in the world, I will admit. Maybe the story is what sets it apart, but… Obviously, that’s not helping me or Amy right now.

Amy dies again and swears.

“Why don’t you give me a turn?”

“No! I’ll beat this!”

“Oh well.” I sit back in my seat.

“Hey, Morgan?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you a Christian?” Amy asks.

“Wh… Are you blatantly defying every single form of conversational ettiquite there is? First politics, then sex, now religion?”

“When did we talk about sex? I haven’t even figured out the right jokes to use on you for your strange distaste for men.”

“I only like girls, okay? Sex is pretty complicated and I’m not gonna stop and explain myself to a bratty fifteen year old.”

“And here the truth comes out,” Amy says wistfully. “Poor Morgan, dating only the feminine side of the spectrum. How would you even know if you don’t like men unless you dated one first?”

“I…”

“Sound logic, I know,” she says.

“No comment.”

“Yeah, but are you a Christian?”

“Will you focus on playing this game so we can get to the co-op mode?” I ask. “And no, I’m not religious. My parents never really talked about that stuff at home so I never really thought about it.”

“Well, that’s the first good thing you’ve said all night! Christianity is bunch of bunk, and those Bible-thumping bigots who preach hate and intolerance are the reason I’m on the street today. Every single one of them is a bastard.”

“Lamar is a Christian,” I tell her. “Did you know that?”

“Oh, well if Lamar’s a Christian, then I know that a holy crusade is being waged on that religion to rid itself of the darkness that corrupts it. Lamar may himself be the next great figure to bring goodness into the hearts of billions.”

“Lamar is the next Jesus Christ?”

“I didn’t say that, Morgan Harding. You put words in my mouth, Morgan Harding.”

“Why did I invite you over again?”

“Because you have no friends and your promiscuous Asian FWB is gone.”

“My… what? You know what, nevermind, I don’t want to know. You’re kinda right. I’m… Not really feeling myself that much these days. I don’t know what’s really come over me, but I—”

Ding!

“Steak!” Amy shouts, ignoring everything I had been saying seconds earlier. She drops the controller and dashes into the kitchen area faster than I can even get up from the sofa.

“Careful! It’s going to be very h—”

“Ouch!”

Ugh, Amy…

We get the steaks and fries out and on two separate plates, and let dinner commence in the atmosphere of the Super Nintendo game’s ambient pause music.

“Mmmm. This is really good,” Amy says.

I crack open a beer can and drink it alongside the steak and fries. Yep, this is just about the perfect meal for a slow weekday night. I really like this.

“I’m glad you came here today,” I tell Amy. “It means a lot.”

“Hey now, don’t be getting all sappy on me.”

“Oh…”

“Hey, flip it on the TV. I wanna see if the Dial-Up Demon is still hijacking channel 5.”

“The Dial-Up Demon is doing… what?”

I take the remote and change to the TV setting and going to channel 5, which at this time of evening is supposed to be showing the news, but instead is showing static. Every few seconds or so though, the static morphs a little bit and shows the insignia of the Demon himself.

So he’s upgraded from just radio… Still, all he’s doing is interrupting people who wanted to watch a TV show. It’s not like it’s the Scott Stutzman Show or anything; who cares?

“Why are you interested in this guy?” I ask. “He’s not doing anything special. Just generic criminal stuff with a gimmick, right?”

“He’s robbing banks left and right,” Amy says. “Anyone who helps take down the system is good in my book.”

“The system, like… All of modern-day life?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Oh, I see.”

“If the status quo leaves kids like me homeless, then I’d rather let everything fall into chaos for a little bit,” she says, without the usual snarkiness in her voice.

“You almost make a valid point.”

“Speaking of,” Amy says the moment she finishes her plate of food. “I gotta get going. Holos want me out to help graffiti some billboards. Wanna join?”

“Uh, no thanks,” I say. “You don’t want to finish the game?”

“Not really, no. It kind of sucks. Like old stuff usually does.”

“It’s not THAT old. You’re just—Amy, do you… have a good place to stay tonight? Are you good for that?”

She glares at me. “I’m not some damsel in distress for you to save. I didn’t ask for your help, so don’t just go offering it.”

“Sorry.”

She gives a small bow out of sarcastic respect, letting her mohawk dip down just a little bit, and then makes her leave from my apartment.

What an adventure it always is talking to Amy. I feel like I learned a lesson here, but I have no idea what it was.

Oh well. It’s still early, but I’m surprisingly tired. I check my e-mails and don’t see anything new from Karina, which is OK, and then I wash the dishes and stand in the silent room for a bit. For yet another night, I go to bed early and keep my thoughts all to myself.

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