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The Dial-Up Demon – Chapter 11: Setting the Trap

“You got chased by robots?!” I ask in shock.

We’re finally all back together, me and Frank and Erin and Junkers. But Frank and Erin look like sweaty messes. Beautiful, handsome, sweaty messes.

I’m still a bit unsettled about just how dignified and friendly they are at all times.

“Yes. It was a really big ordeal,” says Frank. “All around the Mathematics building, through all the rooms. They wouldn’t stop chasing us until they all shut down again!”

“That’s crazy. But you’re okay?”

“Of course!” Erin exclaims. “Frank here is a triathelete. He outran them like a quarterback on the way to a touchdown.”

“If I knew what that analogy meant I’d be impressed,” I say. “But you didn’t find any extra clues?”

“Nothing that correlates with what you found,” Frank says. “A boot with some red clay on it. A microphone. It’s probably just leftover litter from the Soli⭐ holo-concert from last Friday. People went wild over that.”

“You mean it’s not always so empty here? There’s literally almost nobody in the whole campus.”

“I find that strange, yeah,” he says. “I have some theories about that one, too. It may be the work of the Demon himself.”

“Or just everyone started skipping classes since it’s later in the term, maybe?”

“I doubt that,” Erin says. “People who take summer classes are the brightest of the bunch. They persevere and don’t fold so quickly.”

The only reason she’s saying that is because she’s taking summer classes…

“But how are we going to catch him?” I ask. “He’s probably still here, but we don’t even know why. We can’t catch him if we don’t discover a motive.”

“Erin’s got a plan,” Frank says.

“I have a plan, like Frank said,” Erin says.

“So you, Erin, have a plan, you say, like Frank said.”

“Precisely. Now, my intricate knowledge of the inner workings of mechanical engineering will not come entirely in handy here, since the wireless signals from the transponders are—”

Erin keeps talking about a master plan of hers, involving a convoluted trap that will capture the Demon, or give us his precise location at least, and it all flies completely over my head. Honestly, I stop listening to most of it.

The gist of it is that Frank and Erin will set up one of the disabled robots with a wire and dance it around like a marionette puppet or something, and they’ll do it right in plain site next to the President’s office so that the Demon will definitely see it. Then I’ll walk in, pretending to be unassuming and cowardly and whatnot, and trick the Demon into trying to take over this robot or something like that. In his overconfidence, he’ll snare the trap and we’ll find out his location immediately. Or, in a better scenario, it’ll catch him directly.

I don’t get it and it seems like an idiotic plan to me. But who am I to say what plans are good or not? I’m definitely not the smartest apple in the barrel. Wait, that expression makes no sense.

***

With Junkers slinking along by my side, I set the trap into motion. Right in front of the President’s office, with the ultra-secure door still in place, I pretend to yawn then stretch out my limbs.

“Hey Mr. Larkins,” I shout through the door. “Are y’all doing okay in there?”

“Wh… Harding, is that you?”

“Yeah, it’ll just be a second. There’s… some robot next to me. Is that… dancing?”

The disabled robot is being dangled from above by literal wires, ones that are clearly visible and extremely easy to spot even from a distance. This is moronic.

“Oh no, the scary robot! I’m petrified!” I exclaim with the most overdramatic performance I’ve ever given in a non-Tracy Silver role.

The robot starts to advance towards me… And Junkers hunkers down and growls at it.

“Junkers, stop,” I say. “It’s not an actual robot.” Wait, but the Demon might have microphones everywhere. “Just kidding, it’s a VERY REAL robot.”

Nothing seems to be happening yet.

But Junkers is now snarling its teeth at the fake robot.

“Oh no, I really hope the scary Dial-Up Demon doesn’t attack me and torment me before this moron dog ruins the plan! That would be really scary!”

And then Junkers lunges and attacks the robot. A few of the wires snap off immediately and the robot begins twirling around in the air. And, naturally, it’s coming straight for me. With my superb reflexes, I dodge it before it slams into my face—

—but I forget to dodge when it comes flying back in the other direction.

There’s a loud crunching sound the moment it collides against my back. I’m going to assume that sound came from the robot as it failed to keep up with my extremely strong I-drank-my-milk bones.

But from the way I collapse onto the floor, chest down, and my entire body throbs in pain, I’m going to have to assume it was my back that made the sound.

“Owwwwwwwww…”

Junkers is still attacking the robot even as it lies motionless on the floor, but Frank and Erin come down from the floor above to check on me. At least, that’s what I think until I’m looking up at them and their hands are on their hips.

“What…”

“We hope you learned your lesson,” Frank says.

“Yeah, your lesson,” adds Erin.

“My… lesson…?”

“There was no Dial-Up Demon, Morgan,” Frank says. “We knew it from the start, and so did you. You just didn’t want to admit it to yourself, so you started making logical leaps and fabricating evidence so you could make it seem more likely.”

“It was a wild goose chase, and you were the goose all along,” Erin says.

“What the hell… I just got injured…”

“Injured in pride, maybe, but you’ll be fine in body.” Frank extends his arm and pulls me back up on my feet. “We solve mysteries all the time, but in every single case, there’s always a twist at the end. They say there’s a phantom haunting the grocery store, but it’s actually just an angry middle-aged woman breaking in at night. They say there’s a bigfoot in a factory? It’s just a holo-projection by the boss to scare off employees. We know there’s a real truth for every case.”

“You think I made all this crap up? But…”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re completely right. I was so bored, so immersed in my doldrums that I was practically begging for a stupid adventure to embark on. I went on this trip with Mr. Larkins with the full expectation, and hope, that something would go terribly wrong, and it did.

I really did make up the whole thing, didn’t I? The Dial-Up Demon was never going to attack a university. It makes no sense. He robs banks and restaurants, not schools.

I’m not a hero at all. I’m just a sad little kid who misses their best friend and has too much free time on their hands.

What have I done…

“I’m really sorry about all of this,” I say. “You two… have taught me a very valuable lesson indeed.”

“Well, with that out of the way,” Erin says, “we still need to figure out what’s wrong with these transponders. The school probably put them all in on purpose in case of emergencies, and they’re all going off for some reason.”

“If I can get out of range and get a signal again, I might be able to call an ally who can help us out,” I say. “As long as we get this door open so my boss and President Morgan don’t starve to death, I think we’re fine, but—”

Junkers stops attacking the robot all of a sudden and sniffs in the air. All three of us stop our conversation and take a look in its direction.

“What’s it doing?” I ask.

Frank shakes his head (his ascot flowing alongside it). “I don’t know…”

Junkers sniffs its way around the room until it ends up, yet again, sniffing and growling against a wall. This time, it’s a wall right next to the President’s office.

“Hmmmm…”

The wall has another nearly imperceptible slit in it, just like the one in the cafeteria. So it’s another transponder, surely…

I step up to punch it open like last time. And then with two fists I rip the whole barrier down!

“What the fuck?!” a raspy voice screams.

Holy shit it’s the Dial-Up Demon after all!

And his secret identity! He’s…

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