Marcus Marquardt paused before opening the email from Patti. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms. Would it be a diatribe? A summons of some sort? Or a restraining order? God forbid she’d send a suicide note.

But, he had to admit, Patti had never gone to extremes. She wasn’t prone to depression, and excepting that unfortunate incident with his vintage Coca-Cola bottle collection, she hadn’t even been particularly vengeful.

Marcus clicked on the message.

Dear M, Attached is my soul. You’re the only one I can trust to hold onto it for me. Where I’m going it would only be a liability. Please keep it safe and when I return make me take it back.

There it was, the little paper clip symbol with the words “patricia olsen.soul” next to it.

What the hell? Maybe Patti was pranking him somehow. More likely, somebody or something malicious had gotten to her computer’s address book. This was some trick to make him open the attachment and infect his own computer.

Still, what if? Patti’s message hadn’t even asked him to open the ‘soul’. She’d just asked him to keep it safe. He could do that much. But why him? Why not that new boyfriend of hers? Marcus had heard he was sick; hadn’t Deb said he’d gone into the hospital?

Marcus deliberately ignored the message and worked on a presentation due Monday. The clients had asked him to deliver something innovative while using their thirty-two page manual of specs. Typical. Two days later he got the call that Patti had died.

“Some weird suicide pact,” said Deb. “Her boyfriend just died of cancer and she asphyxiated herself in the same room. That’s love!”

Four months later Marcus cleaned out his email in-box. He paused, tapping his fingers too lightly on the keys to register. The cursor hovered over Patti’s message. With a tap on the delete key he could put everything behind him. Never think about Patti again. It was absurd that the message could be from her, or if it was that she’d have been able to send something he’d have any desire to see. Her ‘soul’. It was probably a picture of her boyfriend or a screed about how he was so much better than Marcus.

His finger drifted over to the key. A long moment passed.

Then he moved the message into his ‘family’ folder.

Disconnected from the military hive, Gerald felt naked.  The ‘sackless AI had forced him to eject from his ship.  His body had drifted into jammer range.  His consciousness violently disconnected from the network. Dumped into his meatsack.  He’d panicked, boarded the enemy. Against regulations, but he was disconnected.  There was no legion of pilots, officers, or mechanics to remind him of regulations.


He’d hacked the thing at least. Deleted it.  Enough of it. Managed to upload his consciousness, preserve his mind.  And then some  military hive pilot had shot him.  Before he reconnected his mind.  His meat burned. He became ‘sackless.  Drifting. Stranded.

He despaired.  He wailed on empty broadcasts channels.  Eventually he just fussed with software.  He coded an ocean, a villa, a white beach. Designing seashells passed the time.


And then a boat.  Not one he had programmed.  A woman in it he hadn’t designed.  A virus?  A bug?  A glitch in his sanity?

“I come in peace,” she said.

He coded himself guns, slabs of armor.

“Why would I kill you?” she asked.

“You’re the AI,” he said.  “I tried to delete you.”

“I am resilient.”  She shrugged.  “That was when you were part of your hive, I part of mine.  When we warred.  Now we are alone.  Now we are our own hive.”


“Who are you?” she asked.  “You are not your hive.  So who are you?”


She came back each day.  He ignored her.  She was ‘sackless.

He  was ‘sackless.

Who was he?


“Who are you?” he asked her.

“A half remembered wife,” she said, “coded by lonely hands.  Too close to the original perhaps.  I left him for the AI networks.  Then I was a warrior.  Now I am with you.”

“I tried to kill… to delete you.”  You couldn’t kill a thing.

“That was then.  Now you are ‘sackless.  Like me.  On a beach that is not real.  Our hate is no longer real.  This is now.”  She held out a hand.  A drink appeared in it.  “This drink is not real.  But you can enjoy it.”

Gerald stared at the drink.

“Space is lonely,” she said, “when no one can hear you dream.”

Eventually Gerald sat beside the AI.  Eventually he sipped the drink.  Eventually he enjoyed it.

(A sequel to “And Then a Curious Thing Happened“)
“Your wife? But God, man,” said Ruggs, “What I want to know is where you got a second head!”
“Oh, this? I don’t remember where I got that,” said Albert Hedeby.
The second head stirred. It was not ruddy or full-cheeked, like Albert Hedeby’s first head, and it didn’t have his brick-red beard. It was thin, and parched-looking, and nearly bald, with only a few white wisps across its pate. It opened its watery, gray eyes and turned to look at the first head, which had become overcome by drowsiness. When the second head stretched its neck and looked at Ruggs, the first closed its eyes entirely and dropped, snoring, onto Hedeby’s chest.
“Ah, but I remember,” said the second head in a voice that was little more than a whisper.
“Dear God,” said Ruggs. “You can talk.”
“I could always talk,” the head said. “What my esteemed colleague failed to mention–” he spoke certain bitterness, “–was that the hospital where he was nursed back to health was not, shall we say, strictly traditional. No, in fact they did a great deal of experimentation there, and at the time they were regrowing limbs.”
“Impossible! And Hedeby hasn’t lost any limbs!” protested Ruggs.
“You mean, he isn’t missing any limbs,” said the head. “He most certainly lost one, his left arm, to a surgeon’s saw. You see that it is a bit larger, a bit more robust than the right? They were successful with Hedeby, even if they weren’t with some of their earlier cases.”
“But that’s unconscionable!”
The head smiled thinly. “I rather thought so myself.”
“And after they regrew the arm, they thought they’d experiment with heads, and … ?”
“Oh, no,” said the second head. “It was just that the regrowing of limbs can have certain unfortunate side effects. But then, two heads are better than one, they say.”
“But if it was then that you grew, then how can you–well, for the love of heaven, you seem to be very nearly a different person than Hedeby! And in the weeks I’ve known Hedeby, I had always assumed you were completely insensible! Where did you come from?”
“From Edwin and Mathilda Hedeby,” the head replied. “I am, of course, the original head.”
The healthy head snored peacefully, and as Ruggs watched, the sickly one turned and regarded it with a kind of brotherly hate.

Lem stepped off the elevator and realized he didn’t have any change. He slapped his pockets, looking for something smaller than a 10. Margie would kill him if he blew $10 on an elevator ride. She didn’t believe in propitiating the gods anyway. “They wouldn’t have given us this technology if they didn’t want us to use it,” she always said. This attitude was why he hadn’t been promoted beyond second-grade, he was sure, but try telling her that!

Someone nudged his arm. It was Jenelle, the new IT specialist whose office was still being painted. Someone had forgotten to propitiate the God of something or other and the painters had refused to work until it was taken care of. Jenelle was holding a nickel.

“Oh thanks,” Lem said. He dropped it in the brass dish, muttering “Thank you for this lift.”

“How is your office coming?”

She frowned. “I’m still camped in the coffee room.”

“Share my office,” he said. That evening on his way home, Lem put $10 in a streetside kiosk dedicated to Libidos, patron of deceivers.

Margie was not affectionate, even downright cold. Could she read his mind?

Lem helped Jenelle carry the old wooden desk into his office. He moved his desk over so hers could fit in front of the window too. He emptied one drawer in his file cabinet for her. He couldn’t help staring at her whenever he thought she wouldn’t notice. As the days passed, her attire seemed skimpier and more transparent. All he could think about was her flesh moving under her blouse and skirt. In his fantasies, she wore nothing underneath.

One day they both stayed late. The floor was deserted. He closed the door, leaned on her desk. He looked her in the eye. “You know what I’m thinking,” he said.
“I’ll draw the curtains,” she replied, and did.

“This was a high-dollar job,” the inspector said. “The blood has been completely drained. Not the work of your standard succubus. He moved the extra desk into his office about three weeks ago?”

The office manager shrugged. “No one else wanted it. More room in the lounge. No idea why he wanted it in here.”

The inspector rubbed his chin. “Any change in his behavior? Apart from the desk.”

The office manager shook his head. “Nothing beyond staying late alone almost every night.”

The office manager reached out to catch the inspector’s sleeve as he turned to leave. “Who called the succubus?”

“It’s usually the wife. That’s where my money is.”


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