Yvette made it through the first half of the office social event without incident. At least she had Rose, the Inner Pet installed alongside her own mind, to guide her through the awkward interactions with her curious colleagues. These were the social situations Yvette dreaded. Inevitably, all anyone wanted to talk about was her pregnancy.
“Have you thought about names?” asked a portly man clutching a bottle of beer.
“A bit, but we don’t want to announce anything early,” said Yvette with a smile.
A light rain tapped on the expansive office windows and streamed down the glass in forking paths.
“How about the Inner Pet? Have you chosen a model yet?” asked a tall woman whose name Yvette could not recall.
That’s Bianca, who works in the Finance team, Rose reminded Yvette internally.
“Well, I quite like PetalTech, although my husband has other ideas,” said Yvette.
They know your husband’s name is Harrison, thought Rose.
“I think that the PetalTech models are considered a bit past it these days,” said Bianca.
Ouch, thought Rose. Best not point out your own Inner Pet is a PetalTech and embarrass her now.
“Did you say your husband is an Inner Pet Technician?” said the beer bottle guy. “He could do the Pet install himself!”
“It’s a shame Harrison couldn’t make it here tonight,” said Bianca. “We’d love to meet him – pick his brains about Inner Pets, so to speak!”
“Yeah, he has been busy and… unavailable,” Yvette began.
Careful, Rose thought. I don’t think you want to go into too much emotional detail with your new colleagues. I know Harrison has been on your mind, but you can talk to me about that.
Yvette felt a growing sense of unease rise within her.
I detect nausea, Rose warned.
Yvette put one hand to her chest and hurried towards the toilets. There were still several metres to go when she knew she would be sick. Trying to limit the damage at the last second, she clutched the sides of a plant pot and heaved up her lunch into it.
Oh god, in front of half the office, Yvette thought.
You’re OK now, Rose thought back. I think it’s a good time to head home.
The front door of the flat refused to open for Yvette.
Touch the door, thought Rose. I may be able to interface with it.
Yvette had never touched the door before. The surface was colder and harder than she expected. Rose worked for a moment and the door slid open.
Inside the flat, Yvette was struck by the smell of machine oil mingled with the iron scent of blood. The oil she recognised as the protective solution used for work on Inner Pets before they were installed into a host.
“Harri?” Yvette called out.
Perhaps he is gone, thought Rose. Perhaps that would be for the best.
Don’t think like that, thought Yvette.
In his workroom, Harrison was slumped unconscious in the technical chair, with electrodes and coiling tubes hooked on to shaved patches on his scalp. Murky purple substances travelled through the tubes in both directions at a sluggish pace.
To Harrison’s side, a miniature squid of filaments and tendrils lay glistening in a dish. Yvette had never seen the physical form of an Inner Pet before. This is what Rose looked like, installed somewhere in Yvette’s brain stem.
Reach out and touch the Inner Pet, thought Rose. I will interface and find out what is going on.
Yvette stretched out one finger towards the Inner Pet in the dish, with her other fingers curled back defensively in her palm. She touched the wet surface, and a plan from another mind unfurled itself, through Yvette’s fingers and up into her own thoughts. Images of Harrison, and his planned transfer into the new Inner Pet. A scheme to take a human existence into a new host. A desire to keep living forever by appropriating the life of his own child.
He wants to continue his life inside the new Inner Pet, Rose thought. And forever after that, taking each new descendent life for himself. He must have been running these sessions for months to prepare for the transfer.
Harrison stirred and his eyes rolled open. His gaze fixated on Yvette.
“what are you doing here?” he slurred the words. “It’s too early.”
Harrison heaved himself into an unsteady standing position, his shoulders uneven and his hands half clenched. He took in the room and equipment around him.
“You can’t leave now that you know about it,” Harrison’s voice grew stronger. “You’ll have to stay here until the time comes. I’ll tell your colleagues you’re too ill to work.”
Harrison took a step towards his wife. Yvette froze for a moment, waiting for Rose to make a decision for her. There was a dim pulsation at the back of her skull, but Rose was silent, overwhelmed.
Yvette placed her hands on her husband’s chest and pushed him back towards the technical chair. He fell as the chair pushed into the back of his knees, and the tubes were wrenched from his head.
Yvette took her chance and ran to the door, placing her fingers on it again.
Please, Rose, wake up now, Yvette tried to reach the Inner Pet in her mind.
She felt something stirring again, and an uncomfortable tingling spread through her fingers. The door opened, and Yvette was out on the street in a cold breeze.
They hurried away from the flat and Rose began reaching out to Yvette’s family and friends for help. The image of the Inner Pet in the dish would not leave Yvette’s mind. A mental connection formed and became a question.
Who are you? Yvette thought to Rose.
There was a long mental silence.
Perhaps I am older than you thought, Yvette. I loved you since before you were born. We’re in this together, and always will be.