She must have dozed off when she was awakened by the sound of her phone going off. Still feeling dazed, she half-rolled, half-crawled off the couch and went to get her phone where she’d laid it next to her purse.
The call ended before she got to it. As she picked up the device, there was a ding and a message popped up on the screen, letting her know she had a voicemail. Seeing it was from Rall Rentals, she hit the redial button before listening to the message.
“Hello, Dane,” a familiar voice answered on the first ring.
“Hello, Miss Mosher. Did you need to speak with me?”
“I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”
Dane understood why the woman made the remark. “Not really. I was taking a nap. I can go back to sleep after this call.” She chuckled, with Mosher joining her.
“I called to let you know you’ll be receiving your first renter on Monday. At the moment, I’m not sure what time she’ll be taking her position, but I wanted to give you a heads up.”
Dane almost looked at her phone in disbelief. Had she heard this woman correctly?
My first renter? What about Fluffy?
Hoping to extend their conversation so she might learn more, she took a side tactic. “It’s Saturday, Miss Mosher. Don’t you take the weekend off? Or are you on call twenty-four-seven?”
“I don’t work full days on weekends. And with this being a relatively new company, sometimes we employees have to put in extra hours. I called because I know you’ve been anxious.”
“Thank you,” Dane managed to say. “Can I, uhh, can I ask if she’s disabled? I mean, I know you can’t tell me her name and such, but…” She paused. “I’m in no-no land. I’m making a mess of this, aren’t I?”
Mosher chuckled again. “I’ll just pretend you didn’t ask.”
“Well, can I ask this much? It has nothing to do with my renter’s identity.”
“You can ask, but I reserve the right not to answer.”
“I understand,” Dane told her. “My question is this. Do they get implanted, too? Or do they don some sort of cap with all sorts of electronic gear on it in order to…experience me? I mean, what exactly do they have to do after they’re approved to be a renter?”
“That’s a good question. In fact, you’re the first person to ask. They get an implant similar to yours, but it’s programmed to receive. Whereas yours is programmed to transmit. Does that answer your question?”
Her mind flashed back to the image of the man’s face with the helmet on his head. Except now she didn’t think of it as a helmet. Maybe the guy was hooked up to some sort of medical device that kept him alive.
“Dane? Are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry. Guess I zoned out there for a second.”
The woman’s chuckle was as warm as her smile. “Don’t worry. It won’t be the last time. You might have another one or maybe two more incidents until this whole thing becomes old hat for you.”
Old hat? And she knew that to be the case because?
“Miss Mosher, can I ask how many rentals you currently have? Or is that a company secret?”
A sigh came over the phone. “I can tell you we currently have over two hundred active rentals, of which ninety-one percent of them are presently being occupied. Is there anything else you wish to try and ask me?”
Dane recognized the woman’s last question to be a signal that she was needing either to get back to work, or to call it a day and go home. “Not at the moment. But thanks for this call, and for letting me know what you could.”
“I’m glad to know I set your mind at ease.”
“Oh! One last question! When my renter comes online, I guess you could call it, will I get some sort of feedback? Or a ring tone? Or something?”
“Just check your app. That’s how you’ll know. That reminds me! I’m glad you brought it up so I don’t have to call you back later. That incident you say you had yesterday, the one regarding seeing a man, or thinking you had a male rental?”
Dane sat up straighter. “What of it?”
“Have you had any more of those encounters or interactions?”
Dane gave a snort. “I’d been drinking with my friends after work. This morning, I’m pretty sure I must have imagined the whole thing.”
“That’s a relief. I had our engineers test your system, and they say it’s working perfectly, so you shouldn’t be having any ghosts interfering with your connection.” Mosher put a slight emphasis on the word “ghosts,” as if to suggest Dane’s recent problem was something other than a few too many drinks coupled with exhaustion, or a glitch in the equipment.
But what about Fluffy? her brain insisted.
“Well, enjoy the rest of your weekend, Dane. I’ll talk to you next week to see how you’re faring with your new tenant,” Mosher cheerfully remarked and ended the call.
After glancing at the screen, Dane looked upward. “Fluffy? Are you there?”
Nothing. It was a bit disappointing, but she tried to reach him again. “Fluffy? I need to talk to you!”
But just to double check, she opened her cell and hit the app.
The circle was green. He was around, but not signed on.
Or was he?
“What if it isn’t him? What if it’s that woman?”
Shaking her head, she went into the kitchen to fix herself a sandwich. Her mind remained on the problem when she got a twinge behind her left eye.
She leaned against the counter. “Well, there you are! I have a question for you. Remember, it’s once for yes and twice for no.” She paused to see if Fluffy would respond. After a few seconds, and he didn’t, she continued.
“I just got a phone call. Do you know about it?”
“Did you hear it? Do you know what it was about?”
“Miss Mosher told me I’ll be getting my first renter on Monday. My first renter. But I thought that was you. Are you my renter or not?”
She caught her breath, until…
She almost gasped. “Is that a yes or a no?”
She gaped. “You’re not my renter?”
“Okay, what are y—”
This time she felt her jaw drop. Was that a yes and a no? Or a no and a yes? “Whoa. I gotta sit down for this.” Going over to the small kitchen table, she pulled out a chair and sat down. “All right. One step at a time so I can get this straight. Did you apply at Rall Rentals to become a renter?”
Dane blinked. “You didn’t? Then how in the hell are you able to be inside my head? Wait, wait. That wasn’t a yes or no question.” She looked down at her hands and noticed the butter knife in her hand that she’d been spreading mayo with. “Fluffy, can you see my hands?”
“Can you see what’s in my right hand?”
For some strange reason, she asked, “Do you know what I’m holding?”
There was a slight extended pause, and then…
“No?” She held up the object. “You don’t know what this is?”
Dane found it impossible to believe. “You don’t know what a knife is?”
“Now you’re not making sense. One minute you say you don’t know what a knife is, and the next you say you do. Are you teasing me, Fluffy?”
Okay. He wasn’t making fun of her, or so he said. But things weren’t adding up.
Her phone went off, startling her. Tossing the knife onto the counter, she reached for the cell when the jangling stopped. Picking it up, she opened the phone to see who’d called her when she got a voicemail. Both call and voicemail were from UNKNOWN.
“Oh, great. Another spam call.” She was about to delete it when the voicemail opened itself to play the audio message.
It was a man’s voice, stilted and mechanical sounding. “Hello, Dane.”
Another ring, also from UNKNOWN, and a second voicemail.“I am Fluffy.”