Dialtone: A Short Story

Written by Adriana Garrido Fernandez

“In times past, a genius businessman started the largest corporate empire in the continent. Yet today, nobody knows his name.” G crumpled up the newspaper and threw it into the trash. He packed up his tools and made his hour-long commute to work while smoking a cigarette. California! A wonderful piece of hell on earth. If your soul wasn’t sucked out by constant wildfires, then sure as hell would the locals finish the job. Despite complaining a lot about California, G was able to find employment here unlike in Ohio, where employment seemingly didn’t exist. G didn’t exactly want to be here, but he didn’t have a choice. Tempodial© was the only place willing to give him a shot in San Jose After all, not many companies would risk hiring someone with a criminal record like him. G only really had one advantage over others: he was considered a genius mechanic. He could fix any hardware or software in half the time it would take other specialists, hence he was somewhat able to obtain work, even if it paid less than an employee with a clean record.

G was assigned to work at the old building. Of course, he was, they wouldn’t trust a rookie mechanic that had a criminal record with the top-of-the-line machinery. G was warned that if he was caught doing anything suspicious, he would be given the boot. He wasn’t actually excited about being here, he’d rather stay unemployed doing nothing, but rent wouldn’t pay itself after all. It just so happened that his first ‘project’ would be a certain, old, dusty machine from days gone by.

He was led to an old room by a manager and subtly warned that there were new cameras installed. G recognized that the model at least did not record audio, though. The room was very dusty and was filled with around 10 desks with old computers and machines. “As it’s your first day, all you have to do is check if they work and if not figure out if they are at the very least repairable.” the manager stated before leaving him to his devices. G went from machine to machine checking if they were functional. He expected none of them to successfully boot up, however, the last one caught him by surprise. By coincidence, it was also located in what seemed to be the manager or boss’s desk and was a dusty black in contrast to the other grey stock models.

“What the- ” He consciously stopped himself before his foul mouth stole his brand new job. How the hell is this thing still functional? He was pretty sure this thing was older than him by at least 5 years. This thing, which wasn’t a long-shot to call an oddly expensive dustpan by

now, was still kicking with that green hill background every grandparent in a 90-mile radius would recognize.

After he entered a password that was in an envelope given to him by the manager, A small thing—was it a man? G wasn’t exactly sure but he probably wouldn’t mess with it in case it had some kind of virus. He ignored it and it seemingly ignored him just staying in the corner of the screen. G still didn’t like how it seemed to stare at him but at least it was a 40-year-old program. The ones today could track your location in seconds and he was pretty sure one of those got him caught at least twice.

G started testing the device and checking if everything worked. He was easily able to get through around an hour of work and was almost done fixing up the machine when he got to the corrupted files. He tried deleting them and failed when suddenly the little man that had been ignoring him for an hour startled him with a speech bubble and an unexpected loud text-to-speech voice coming from the dial phone on the desk. “Hey, ɦօʍɛ ֆӄɨʟʟɛȶ” G jolted up but somehow managed to keep a straight face. However, he couldn’t help but think things like “damn, that thing’s sentient”, “it’s gotta be one of its like 5 pre-programmed speech bubbles.” and “Why is the font so corrupted? Shouldn’t it have crashed by now?” G grabbed the phone from its stand in an effort to reduce the volume, and it started chatting again. “How would you like a 𝓵𝓲𝓽𝓽𝓵𝓮 𝓭𝓮𝓪𝓵 that would benefit us both? Those נ𝔩𝔩𝐢𝕂σ𝕪 rags tell you are in need of a score!” It stared at him with what seemed like a permanent customer service smile. As G squinted suspiciously at it, he replied, “For starters, don’t insult my jacket. Secondly, what makes you think that I would trust a 2′ sentient png image that is probably more corrupt than a third-rate hard drive?” Of course, he got a response. The image was sentient, it seemed. He should probably lay off the cigs tomorrow. “Oh, 𝕧𝕖𝕣𝕚𝕗𝕚𝕔𝕒𝕥𝕚𝕠𝕟? Easy enough, just fetch the red drive over there.” He put down the phone and saw the direction it was pointing towards since the… program was a 2d image it took some shuffling around for G to find where the drive was. When he finally found it under some old paperwork, he unenthusiastically plugged it in.

The loud TTS voice frightened G again after a few, slow minutes. “Unplug it,” it asked. G obliged and took out the now hot drive. Then he retrieved the phone again to prevent the voice from being so loudly heard. “I ‘guessed’ the company’s service password and ordered you a new coat to replace that b𝕌𝓏𝓏𝕂𝐢𝔩𝔩- I mean respectable jacket. Please check your doorbell by 8 P.M. and take the Red Drive with you. Come back here tomorrow, will ya? I’ll get you something nicer next time, I’m only asking in return for some… 𝒶𝓈𝓈𝒾𝓈𝓉𝒶𝓃𝒸𝑒” It waved at him and with a popup moved into the hard drive. G felt unsettled but he couldn’t afford to think about what just happened. He needed to finish his work so that he could pay for rent this month. Who knows? Maybe this odd program could actually get him something useful. It’s not as if he was bothered about the consequences the company could face, after all, he hadn’t been here long enough to care. After inspecting all the machines but the one where ‘it’ had appeared, G made his way back home and collapsed on the couch after downing some instant ramen. His doorbell rang at some point in the night and, to his surprise, a pretty expensive-looking jacket had arrived at his doorstep. He was too tired to check it out right now, but he somewhat made up his mind that it might be worth the while to cooperate with that weird program.

By daybreak, the next day, the dust in the old room had been swept away. He decided to wear the new jacket it had sent him, and G realized he never really asked what its name was. While G worked on fixing up the old computers enough to recover the files like the manager told him to, he noticed the little businessman wasn’t waiting for him in the black PC. He remembered about the drive and grabbed the phone before plugging it in, after all, he hated being startled by the ear-splitting voice. After a few popup ads and loading screens, the fellow spawned in. “H𝔼𝕪 H𝕖𝕐 Hey my esteemed customer!” G Thought it was glitching more today than yesterday but figured that was normal as it didn’t seem to notice… or did it? G wouldn’t know. “I knew you would come! As it turns out, my customer is wearing the 𝓈𝓁𝑒𝑒𝓀 𝒸𝑜𝒶𝓉 I sent!” It produced an odd sound, probably intended to be a laugh. While G thought it seemed a little maniacal, he was not in the mood to slander the new potential source of capital. “Hey uh, what’s even your name? I never got wind of it yesterday” The corner of the screen where it stood glitched and flickered while it computed the question “Just call me Dial, my esteemed customer!” ‘Dial’ seemed happy but evasive of G’s interest “Then call me G, I don’t exactly enjoy being called ‘esteemed customer’ all the time” Dial gave a-okay sign through a popup on the screen “Now, my esteemed customer G, I’ll be showing you a little 𝕤𝕠𝕞𝕖𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕘 I prepared for you! Please take notes” Dial did that weird laugh again. and a large video popup with bright neon borders showed up on the screen. A bit annoyed at the sentient program still calling him ‘esteemed customer’, G took out a sticky note and an old pen to jot down the ‘notes’.

(Jolly tune with a loud static noise begins to play)

MAN: “I can’t believe I’m more broke than a stray rat! How will I ever pay all my debts back?”

A: “Hi, I’m Alfr-(static glitching). Say goodbye to college debts and minimum wage with the new Red Hard Drive! This man is penniless, but with just one plug into the mainframe… TRANSFER!TRANSFER!TRANSFER! …and he is a millionaire! Look at how it takes the certified blueprints and bank passwords and transfers them to your name! CASH! CASH! CASH! GOODBYE FINANCIAL TROUBLES! No money to buy food? (Severe Static) There! All great again! New Red Hard Drive! Now with COrRupTioN and Keygen for after-dark financing!”

G took a solid minute or two to understand what he just watched. Then, with a questioning look, he turned towards the smiling 2d businessman “So, uh, you want me to plug the red drive into the mainframe to ‘make myself rich’ by ‘transferring the company blueprints and bank information to my name?” Dial looked ecstatic while he glitched on the screen “𝘼𝘽𝙎𝙊𝙇𝙐𝙏𝙀𝙇𝙔! All we have to do is a short trip to the mainframe for the files, and then another short trip I’ll inform you about after!” Dial gleefully laughed again and without asking deposited himself back on the Red Drive while leaving an extremely annoying popup saying “𝔻𝕆 N𝕆𝕎”

As he put the phone back in its stand and looked suspiciously at the Red Drive, G sighed and prepared himself, saying, “If I get fired, it’s all your fault.”Looking back at the lone camera, he noticed it was turned off. There was no doubt that that little program was quite clever, for G would have a clear path to the mainframe without being seen. Whenever he had spare time, he had already checked the schedule of the manager and the executive; He had done a lot of tedious work, but repairing fossil devices wasn’t the most time-consuming. He read the time with a quick glance; 12:13, almost lunch hour. Doing this shouldn’t be any more than a beeline and back with a low risk of being fired on the spot. G hoped he wouldn’t stumble into anyone because while he wasn’t a terrible liar, he wouldn’t be a great con man by any means. With the Red Drive in his jacket pocket, he stumbled his way out of the old room.

There were two mainframes in the company, one in the old building he was in, and one in the modern corporate building. Luckily for G, the mainframe was left in the old building since it was too expensive and risky to move the extremely fragile and valuable devices. Somehow, G didn’t find anyone on his way to the server room. The place was oddly desolated. He assumed he would’ve had to take some back routes or wait for guards to leave, but there wasn’t a single soul on the whole floor. That and the already old aesthetic of the place unnerved G. Was this Dial’s doing too? He shook away the thought, he didn’t have the time or will to ponder on such questions. He just wanted to get this over with.

When he reached the server room, he hurriedly plugged in the Red Drive to get out of the room as soon as possible. While he waited for it to load, he noticed the room was the most well-kept in the old building, even if the machines were all somewhat old. G tapped his foot while staring at the Drive until suddenly, it finished charging, and a small alarm started blaring in the room. He booked it out with the drive, hoping the cameras were still off.

When he reached his workshop, he shut the door and collapsed on the floor, hyperventilating. A few moments later, he pulled himself together and connected the drive to the black computer. As soon as it booted up he grabbed the phone laid off every single ounce of anger he was feeling onto Diall. “What the hell?! Weren’t the cameras off?! I can’t lose this job or I’m gonna be living in a garbage can, you little son of a-” “𝕊𝕦𝕔𝕔𝕖𝕤𝕗𝕦𝕝 𝕤𝕒𝕝𝕖? C𝕒𝕝𝕝 𝕟𝕠𝕨!” It looked at G’s bewildered face with his customer service smile. “It went well! Don’t worry ʇǝllᴉʞS ǝɯoH, it all went smoothly! I tampered with the footage so your job is fine.” The smile was starting to piss G off, but at least he was relieved he wouldn’t get fired. The rest of the day passed by in a blur, and he knocked himself out as soon as he got home.

When G woke up, he was surprised his alarm didn’t ring. He remembered it was a Sunday, the only day he didn’t work. He groaned and noticed the Red Drive in his pocket was almost hot enough to burn him as if complaining he hadn’t plugged it in yet. He begrudgingly plugged it into his personal laptop to see what it had to say so badly.

“𝒢𝓇𝑒𝑒𝓉𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈 valued customer!” Dial blared through the speakers with a smile that seemed to hide some annoyance at how long it took for G to plug him in. “We’re on to the last step! All. You. Need. To. Do. Is-” He made himself bigger on the screen with every word “Go to this location and plug me in! Is it bad? Yes! Sketchy? Yes! Makes your skin crawl? 𝕐𝔼𝕊!” It recomposed itself before continuing “But we’ll find the final step there. The last thing we need ₣ØⱤ ₣ⱤɆɆĐØ₥- for riches!” Dial suddenly got uncharacteristically serious “It’s the last step, G. The very last step. I’ll be waiting” It moved into the drive without reiterating. G wasn’t… completely on board with this. However, it was far too late to back out. He was too deep into this mess, and he was gonna see it through.

G ordered a cab to a… sadder part of the city. It looked like many buildings and projects full of dreams had been started but never finished. Only foundations and the rainy skies of today were left. When he got out of the cab, he checked the location on his old phone. The location it sent him to was close, just a 5 minute walk away. Rain splattered on his old jacket as he had to make his way over a fence into what seemed like an old abandoned factory, bearing the faded name A.Tempodial. He wanted to pry but he had to do what it asked before he was caught. As he slipped inside, he went over the fact that it might be possible that no one even cared enough to guard a place like this. Nonetheless, G didn’t want to take chances so he brushed the thought away.

A leaky, moldy, open room sprawled in front of him. It was full of rusty metal and pieces in conveyor belts that seemed like they had stopped in the middle of manufacturing without anyone worrying to scavenge the materials left behind. Old, faded posters with a caricature that looked oddly like the program who called himself dial could be seen. Three picture frames stood near the ceiling in the center of the old factory. Three faces framed, on top of it stating in the crooked letter “Our Founders”, the picture frames bearing the names Edwin, Charles, and another that started with A, but was too faded to see. They all bore the last name Tempodial. Who was this mysterious founder who’s initial seemingly appeared everywhere? What had happened to them? He knew through sheer exposure the names Edwin and Charles Tempodial, the millionaire founders of the world-renown experimental android company. But he never knew of anyone whose name starts with an A. He remembered that old newspaper he threw away before this all started- “In times past, a genius businessman started the largest corporate empire in the continent. Yet today, nobody knows his name.” The name that stuck out to him even if he only skimmed over it. The name-

He continued down the abandoned factory, the Red Drive getting hotter and hotter as he got closer to where Dial wanted him to go. It was almost burning when he reached a single mainframe room. It had a large device and a drive slot. He could feel him telling him to plug him in already, which pissed G off since he was just about to do that. Suddenly, a large metallic clank could be heard all over the rusting place as it shook. Whatever machine was in front of him, powered up and still dripping rusty, moved itself to meet him with loud scrapes and rattles.

It was a large, at least 8’ tall humanoid steel android that met his eyes. Cut wires hung from all limbs, so many hanging from its back it seemed like some sort of twisted puppet. Two bright white lights that shined brightly stared down at him, like eyes. Through a broken screen that was once state of the art, a pixelated smiley appeared. A smile he got to know all too well the last few days to ignore.

G stared at it feeling smaller than ever and cleared his throat. “Dial, are you there?” He asked, attempting not to sound shaky but it still managed to slip through. For a moment, it stood motionless, as if not quite sure how to control its new body, but it gradually got closer to him. G thought he could hear something. It sounded kind of like… an old phone ringing? Suddenly the large machine swayed and got even closer. It spoke one word. “I NEED YOU

From the moment it reached for him with a rusty, sharp hand, he knew he was in trouble. He stepped backward, avoiding it. “YOUR BODY. FLESH. WITH IT I CAN GET TO THE TOP AGAIN. WE HAVE ALREADY COME SO FAR, WHY STOP NOW? DON’T YOU WANT TO BE RICH? FAMOUS? 𝔹𝕀𝔾?” The machine continued getting closer, and G kept stepping back. He didn’t like where this was going. Why did he even do all this? Why didn’t he just keep his normal job? Why did he listen to that cursed program? He ran, and he didn’t want to look back as it chased after with loud scraping and banging.

It hurts. It hurts. 𝕚𝕥 𝕙𝕦𝕣𝕥𝕤, 𝕚𝕥 𝕙𝕦𝕣𝕥, 𝕚𝕥 𝕙𝕦𝕣𝕥𝕤, 𝕚𝕥- That’s the only thing Alfred could remember after everything went dark. What had happened? His brothers, the old factory, his dreams… Why did they do it? Why did it hurt? What happened to his machines, to his life’s work? What happened to D.I.A.L? He had to get back to it. He had to finish it. If he finished it, everyone would want him back. If it was finished, his brothers wouldn’t have betrayed him. They wouldn’t have C𝕌𝕋 𝕋H𝔼 𝕃𝕀𝕍𝔼 𝕎𝕀R𝔼𝕊 𝔸𝔹𝕆𝕍𝔼 H𝕀𝕄. He didn’t know where he was. He was small. There were tabs and popups and ɢʟɨȶƈɦɨռɢ. Every time he glitched, it hurt. He had to get to ᕼIᔕ ᗯOᖇKᔕᕼOᑭ. It took him a long time. A lot of disbelief to realize- he was trapped. Trapped in the prison that used to be his computer. He was still alive inside, he banged for help, for someone to come. But nobody did. For years, and years, 𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴, nobody came. Nobody cared. Until H𝔼 showed up. And he knew. After all those years alone, corrupted, in pain. He didn’t remember his name. He didn’t remember what he was. He only knew he had to get to the workshop and prove to the world what he was by 𝕥𝕒𝕜𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕕𝕠𝕨𝕟 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕥𝕨𝕠 𝕕𝕖𝕧𝕚𝕝𝕤 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕕𝕚𝕕 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕤 𝕥𝕠 𝕙𝕚𝕞. He knew his purpose, and he gave himself its name. He was DIAL. They would become one. And he was going to use all means necessary to achieve that. After all, when did businessmen ever have morals?

This body. It was large, it was ⱤɆ₳Ⱡ. But the glitches didn’t go away. The 𝕡𝕒𝕚𝕟 did not go away. He needed something bigger. Something more REAL. Something… Alive. D.I.A.L slowly turned his head down. That. He needed that. Flesh and Blood. With real flesh, the glitches would stop. He wouldn’t be a program. He wouldn’t be what was left behind from the live wires. He only needed that in front of him. He didn’t think of it as a person or a living being. It was a vessel. HIS vessel. And he would take it. He would take it and make it his own. N𝕆 𝕄𝔸𝕋𝕋𝔼R 𝕎H𝔸𝕋.

The reality of the situation dawned on G, and in the blink of an eye, he was on the run. He couldnt look back. If he looked back, he would be killed. No, he would be trapped. Just like that thing was. A prisoner inside his head while it took control over him. G wouldn’t allow that, he was afraid. He didn’t want to be someone else’s vessel. Someone’s puppet on a string.

For multiple hours, he hid and ran. G was tired, so tired that he would probably get caught at any moment. Meanwhile, the iron horror after him only seemed faster and more determined,

even more wires tangled in its frame. G thought he saw a light outside and scampered towards it when… Everything fell. The floor below them cracked and disappeared, taking both of them down into the abyss below. G hit the ground and blacked out.

When G stirred and woke up, everything seemed dark, until his eyes adjusted to the light of the cityscape, visible from the wall that collapsed to his left. He tried to get up but pain shot through his leg; He could barely see through a massive headache and the blood kept his right eye shut. He looked to the left, to the cityscape, afraid to see the other side in dread of what he might find.

It took him a while, he couldn’t tell how long, but he finally pulled together enough composure to look to his right. He saw it. What had helped him, chased him, manipulated him, and terrorized him. He saw Dial hanging from the many wires and crushed from the debris. The machine looked to shut down; lifeless. But a faint light and an empty, faded screen stared back at him. G wanted to look away, to forget all this ever happened. But he couldn’t. The machine spoke in a broken, almost silent mechanical yet human voice. “I was unable to accomplish anything. I only harmed myself and others. I wanted it to stop. The glitching, the regret, the wires. It didn’t, but at least I am trapped here for good, unable to fulfill that ruined dream. The dream would make me lose the little reason I have left.” It glitched and attempted to bring back the smile G knew. “You won’t forgive me, I know that much. But I’m sure you’re aware of who I was. You saw the frames, the names, the remnants. But that person is not me. I’d rather the man I was stay forgotten and for the terror known as Dial to fade into obscurity. You don’t owe me anything, but if you could do that… Only that…” and with that last word fading, it shut down for good, the Red Drive falling down from its chest into the corroded ground.

G slowly took hold of it and gazed for a moment, before giving a slight smile. “At least that crazy bastard is free now,” he thought, looking at the cityscape as downpour silenced all other sounds.

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