The Dial-Up Demon – Chapter 8: Campus Visit

I was accepted to Georgia State when I finished my A-Levels, believe it or not. It wasn’t a full ride or anything, but I had an offer to join the College of Mathematics… And of course I didn’t take it.

Maybe it was the fact that by the end of my A-Levels, all of my closest friends and partners had skipped town or stopped really talking to me or something else, and so my entire social circle fell apart in a two-year period. Maybe it was the fact that my parents moved to Savannah and I had to work 30 hours a week to afford rent for my own place. Maybe it was because I just didn’t care that much for math. But for one reason or another, I didn’t go to GSU or anywhere else.

Larkins and I are riding the sky rail, which goes directly from Peach Towers to a subway station two stops from the GSU campus. I feel like I’m overdressed even with this cool biz polo and khaki pants combo, but at least I’m not sweating like a dog like Larkins over here.

I think he’s just really stressed out about the business deal talk today. We’re meeting with the President of Georgia State, so it’s a pretty big deal at least as far as elites go. If he messes this up, his chances of being promoted to Big Wig at Atlanta Cares Bank are as likely as it is that the top of his head is real hair (that is to say, not likely).

Obviously I’m not worried. I doubt I could care less about a single thing in the world than some random business deal between a bank and a university. It genuinely might be the most dull concept ever thought of by humanity.

Still, my thoughts keep wandering to something else. Something more sinister, something more… Okay, yes, I have my walkman on right now and I’m listening to the newest Demon Cast (that’s what they call the broadcasts on his unofficial forum now).

He is still talking on the radio, so I guess he isn’t ready to do his latest attack. But I have to wonder, what’s it going to be? Where’s it going to be? He’s so mum on the details so often that it honestly makes me suspicious that there’s something bigger going on here.

And he keeps playing these awful pop tunes… Is he truly just trying to torture the people who follow him the most closely? The answer is yes.

Other than the heat outside, it’s a really pleasant sunny morning. The streets below are filled with people walking about and auto-conbinis racing to get their next customers. The greens are green and the grays are gray, if you know what I’m saying.

It’d have been a good morning for a walk. This car itself is as dirty as all get-out. I know the sky rail isn’t the most vital part of Atlanta’s infrastructure, but surely it couldn’t hurt them to clean up all the corn chip bags and bubblegum wrappers scattered on the floor, could it?

We finally arrive at the Georgia State campus after a long while of travelling. For how much time it took, I sort of wonder if the sky rail is even worth the convenience over just going to ground level and taking a bus. Oh well, as long as I can keep from boredom for a few moments longer.

The campus is practically empty. I guess this is what universities are like once school is out for the summer. Don’t they still have classes, though? I know Karina was fretting about whether or not to take some classes during one of the terms, but I dissuaded her with the promise of extra cuddles with the time she’d save by not going.

…And then the Japan stuff came up and we barely got to cuddle but that’s beside the point.

It’s weird to me how few times I’ve been to Georgia State, actually. Every time was to visit Karina and bring her something she left at my apartment, or to see one of her orchestra concerts or piano recitals. For such a big school with all these skyscraper-sized buildings spread out across the whole neighborhood, my experience with it is extremely limited.

To think I almost attended this school and instead I became a superhero… Weird to think.

“What’s with that smirk?” Larkins asks.

“Huh? Oh, nothing, sir,” I say. “Just thinking.”

“Well you ought to be thinking about this deal! We’ve got to get in serious mode now. The President isn’t someone to mess around with. It’s a big moment for me! For us, even!”

Yay, Larkins is going to ascend to the top of the bank and I’ll get some cushy management position, just like I’ve always “dreamed” about…

“Uh, okay, got it,” I respond. “Where’s the meeting place, anyway?”

“His office is right ahead. And we—Ah, shit, there he is.”

A skinny gray-haired man stands in front of an office building with his arms crossed. He’s smiling, but it’s that stern kind of smile where you can’t tell if he’s pleased or if he’s just mad at you. He looks like the years have eaten away at his body but the spirit inside is just as large as it was when he was thirty. Probably runs marathons on weekends.

We meet the man and Mr. Larkins immediately goes for the handshake. “Gheb Larkins! Pleased to meet you.”

“Dean Morgan,” he says.

“Oh, you’re the dean?” Larkins asks. “Do you know where the President is?”

Dean Morgan sighs. “Sorry. My name is President Dean Morgan. Dean is my first name.”

Larkins’s face goes flush. He didn’t know the first name of the man he was supposed to meet with…

“I see. Pleased to meet you, President Dean Morgan.”

“‘President’ alone will suffice,” he says.

“Right you are, President, sir.” Larkins takes a few seconds to recuperate from the moral lambasting he just received. “Well then, I’m here to represent the Atlanta Cares Bank. Shall we get down to business?”

President Morgan, who is not a dean and also not a Morgan, looks at me, Morgan, with curiosity. “What are they doing here?” he asks.

“That’s my assistant,” Larkins says. “They’re here to help me out with anything that needs doing.”

“You need help for a simple business meeting?”

“Well, no… but…” Larkins trails off.

I have never seen my boss humiliated in such petty ways before. I kind of like it.

“Well, if you are ready, let’s go into my office and begin our talk,” President Morgan says.

The three of us enter the main building and head towards his office. Inside is a museum-like level of refinement. Photographs and paintings of Georgia State University’s history line the walls, with potted plants on the floor in the spaces between them. The carpet is plush and every step I take makes me briefly wonder if this is secretly a bouncy house converted into a university building.

As we get closer to the office, the photos on the wall become a line of portraits of old white men—the succession of Presidents of the university all the way up to present-day. They appear to be different people, but they all basically look like the same man with slightly different facial features.

There may not be many people around even in the office, but there’s plenty of robots working today. Janitors, security guards, that kind of thing. It seems like way more than any building of this size would ever need. Does the university just like wasting money on robots?

“I just want to say,” Larkins begins to President Morgan, “I really loved your pitch for this project. I think rocket rail is a viable tech and if we are the brains behind the very first one, history’s gonna look at us real kindly.”

“The rocket rail is not about history or being first. It’s to help young people in low income neighborhoods gain a wider access to higher education,” the President says. “I’m afraid that despite your bank’s protests, I won’t be backing down from that. This won’t be a waste like the sky rail.”

“Ah, I see. We will, um, discuss that in a moment.”

Rocket rail… I’ve heard of the idea before, of using the same gravity propulsion technology that lets rocket boots and rocket bikes travel at great speeds in a large-scale public transit situation, but I had no idea that the technology was feasible yet.

So the project is about something much bigger than I ever thought. Our bank might finance a rocket rail project? That sounds incredibly expensive. And the whole project is designed to help bring low-income students to school faster and cheaper? I… Well, I’m not sure if that’s the main priority to solve when it comes to the disadvantages of being poor, but I guess a whole new form of transportation is a lot flashier.

We get to the front door of the office. There’s a strange security system in front of it, like it could act as a full-on panic room if things got really bad. I don’t know just how powerful a person the President of the biggest university in the city (and the whole republic) is, but I guess he’s a lot more so than I ever would have thought.

“From this point on, our talk should be strictly confidential,” President Morgan says. “The things we discuss are already firmly outlined in our mutual NDA.”

“Of course! I know all about that stuff.” His face suggests he clearly knows nothing about all that stuff.

Then Larkins looks at me. “Oh. Yeah. Morgan, uh, get outta here.”

Wait… What? “Wait… What?”

“You’re still a small fry. You can’t be privy to our talks because it’s all top-secret stuff.”

“You’re serious.”

“Yeah. Scram. Go sit in on some classes. Do whatever it is kids do these days. Come back when we’re done.”

“Very well,” President Morgan says, not even taking the time to glance my way, as if I’m not deemed worthy enough to make eye contact with.

The two step into the office and shut the door behind them.

So I came here with my boss to learn the ins and outs of business deals… And I’m not even allowed into the meeting to learn about the deals in the first place?

This blows. I’m going to wander around campus and sulk.

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