Escape Pod 696: The Homunculi’s Guide to Resurrecting Your Loved One From Their Electronic Ghosts

The Homunculi’s Guide to Resurrecting Your Loved One From Their Electronic Ghosts

by Kara Lee

0. Confession

If you are reading this, your Loved One has died. We are sorry for your loss.

If you are reading this, then you stumbled onto an archived thread on a lost forum saying that supposedly, it is possible to bring back the dead using their electronic ghosts, and that the Homunculi, whoever they are, know how it is done. And then you searched and searched in a blur of grief and desperation and nearly killed yourself with illegal thaumaturgical network protocols before you found our servers.

And now you want to know whether you really can bring your Loved One back from the dead.

The answer is mostly yes, with one exception.

But you must know that this is not a resurrection. It is a trade. Your Loved One may return to the land of the living in exchange for your life, body, humanity, and most of your soul. In other words, you will have to condemn yourself to being one of us for the rest of eternity.

We will not lie and say that there is much to our existence.

But there is hope. We, the Homunculi, would know. Because hope is why we wrote this guide.

For you see, we cling to a deep-down, bitter, shameful hope that we will one day be saved by someone who loves us. And we hope against hope that the someone will be you.

We know it is a terrible thing to hope for. We know better than anyone what awaits those who make the trade.

And so we apologize for our selfishness. But we do not ask for forgiveness. We only ask that you remember what it is to hope for something impossible.

1. First Principles

The first mages had their domains of air, fire, earth, and water.

Modern humans have created a new domain for modern mages: electromagic. If you doubt that, look around you and count up those omnipresent slivers of glass and metal in which billions of electrons dance at a fingertip’s command.

The human conquest of electricity started long ago, in a moment lost to history, when some clever person realized that they could somehow make use of those sparks in the air, those flashes in the sky.

Ever since then, human will and human energy and human magic have been quietly, slowly, inexorably soaking into electricity and electrons. And so have human souls–which are what you will be after, for a soul can grow a living body.

Souls decay the instant that flesh dies. We presume that you did not make off with a bit of the stuff before your Loved One’s death. If we are incorrect, close this tab and consult a necromancer. Run, don’t walk.

If we are correct, then we hope that your Loved One left behind some fragments of their soul in the electronic ossuary of the wires.

Fortunately, in this day and age, that is true of most people who spent any significant amount of time alive. Perhaps your grandfather never got the hang of the expensive tablet you gifted him, but he spoke into a rotary phone in his youth, and a piece of him has lingered with us ever since. Perhaps your child died before she could even babble, but if she ever cried into a baby monitor, then there is a ghost of her wails somewhere among us.

Unfortunately, homunculi may not leave the world of wires. So you must enter our domain to search for your Loved One. The journey–and the restoration to life–will require you to perform electromagic.

It is not only a matter of understanding telecommunication. You must also understand the principles on which telecommunication rests–those of electricity and magnetism. For what are data but bits flipping endlessly inside processors? And what are bits but electric voltages?

We hope you were granted the privilege of a good education in the natural sciences. If not, you may study these topics at your leisure; we provide free copies of many textbooks, in many languages, on our servers.

As with any scholarly pursuit, it requires time to gain proficiency, and you must be proficient. You are not placing a magical prank call. You are bringing a soul back from the dead. It is not the most difficult task in the universe, but it is hardly the easiest.

How long will it take, you are wondering.

How long does it take to earn three degrees in physics? How much understanding must enter your own electrons before you can derive Maxwell’s Equations drunk, blind, both hands tied behind your back, in a raging snowstorm? It takes that much time. Here are some ways to expedite the process:

  • Sleep at the intersection of ley lines designated by the crisscross of power lines overhead
  • Draw auguries from the flickering of streetlights until you receive a fortunate omen
  • Meditate in front of neon lights until your blood glows

But please, take as much time as you need. (May we also recommend putting your affairs in order during that interval.)

We promise that so long as you read your textbooks and do your problem sets, there will come a morning when you wake up to the sound of solar wind roaring in your ears. E- and B-fields will radiate at the edges of your vision all day, and at night you will throw open a window to see satellites blanketing the world with gossamer nets of cellular datastreams.

And you will know that you are ready to proceed.

2. Human Transfer Protocols

You will find all relevant code, protocols, schematics, and spells in the ~/compendium/src/htp/ directory.

We recommend a computer or a smartphone as your platform device for convenience, however, any telecommunications device will do. It is rumored that a truly dedicated and desperate person once managed the feat using a six-wire telegraph.

Cast the connection spell. Close the circuit. Splice the live copper wire in the schematic into a vein of your choice. (An anatomy textbook is part of our compendium for this reason.) We recommend disinfectant, duct tape to hold the wire in place, a disposable scalpel, and applying a topical anesthetic beforehand.

Lie down. Let pulses and tones rip through your body, deconstructing you into electrical signals, Fourier transforming you into decomposed sines and cosines and Dirac deltas.

You will not have to close your eyes because soon you will no longer have them.

3. Welcome to the wires

In the wires (and sometimes, the wireless) you are not alive. Nor are you dead. You are information. That has its privileges. You will not have to worry about food or shelter or flossing your teeth. But beware! A body is (if nothing else) a reminder of your existence. Without it, you may soon forget who you are and what you came into the wires for.

It is difficult to explain what it is like in the wires. Time and space, at the quantum level, do not function the way you expect.

Here, it is mostly cold and dark and silent. Oh, there are parts of the wireworld lit up like a thousand cities; millions of servers incandescent with data, throbbing with humanity and its incessant activities. But they cannot interact with our dead particles.

Sometimes we will visit a telephone wire at sunrise, though we can sense neither the rosy glow of dawn nor the weight of sparrows that unknowingly alight upon us.

(We can, however, flip bits on certain lost servers. Which is how we created the files–such as this one–that you have been reading.)

Have you ever walked a city street on that blurry edge between late night and early morning? When even the neon lights are flagging, and the streetlights look tired, and the crisscrossing wires overhead are sagging into sleep. Have you ever found yourself staring at the stacked grids of dimly glowing windows all around you, each panel of glass hiding a universe behind itself?

That is the wireworld.

We, the Homunculi, are the lights behind the glass.

4. The Homunculi

The phenomena of phantom vocalizations and signals of indeterminate origin have been reported in various telecommunications devices since 1876, when Tivadar Puskás, working on the first telephone exchange, reported hearing his own voice as echoes in the receiver.

In 1998, Dr. Kikyou Tachibana of the Tokyo Institute For Modern Magical Studies wrote a paper calling us homunculi, hypothesizing that we were remnants of human consciousness.

We were never sure if she intended it as an insult, but we liked the name and so we adopted it. “Little people” is more flattering than our true name, which is: trash.

Every time you make a telephone call or send an email or fire off a 2 A.M. drunk text, a tiny piece of your soul tags along in the electrons that carry your message. The recipient absorbs your energy, digesting it, either nourishing or poisoning their soul depending on the nature of the message.

But if the intended recipient never receives–or never finishes absorbing–your message, then some fragment of your soul lingers in the wires.

Eventually, it becomes a homunculus.

We are the forgotten fragments of yourselves that you left in the wires, over the airwaves, sitting on old servers. We are your deleted emails. (But you will not find spam among us, for spam is soulless.) We are radio chatter that went unheard. Text messages never read. Calls never taken.

We are the litter you abandoned on the shoulders of the information highway. We are an enormous pile of garbage in which you must search for your Loved One.

It is easy. You need not search actively. Homunculi will be drawn to your whole and wholly human soul in the way that iron shavings are drawn to a magnet.

When you come into contact with a homunculus, its quantum states become entangled with yours. As a result, you will relive the communiqué that birthed that homunculus.

Each entanglement lasts only a Planck second, but brace yourself. We are not very nice. Most of us are downright awful. For what sorts of messages do you suppose are the most often discarded? Not the pleasant sort, we assure you.

You will have to bear up under the deluge of the very worst that human beings have to offer. You will find death threats and scams on the elderly and promises that this is the last time, you’ll never hurt him ever again, you love her so much, you swear it. You will also have to wade through the broken cries of their victims. You will die a little with every suicide note, every sob into a telephone line, every midnight text that was ignored until it was too late. You will find awful lies and worse truths belonging not only to your enemies but also your family, your friends, your mentors, your idols.

But we have heard that the worst traces to come across are your own. Every single nasty, cruel, selfish, hateful message you shot off when you were stupid or drunk or righteously angry–they lurk here in the darkness. Be assured that we, who are born of such moments, do not and cannot judge you.

It is possible you will find a sweet office email that your Loved One sent to a defunct address. But you are far more likely to encounter a text from your Loved One telling you to eat shit and die.

Do not worry over the content. What matters is the lineage. For any homunculus that came from your Loved One exhibits their unique resonance. And that is the blueprint from which your Loved One can be reconstructed.

5. The eigenvectors of ghosts

Once you have found a homunculus from your Loved One, capture it in a Faraday Ward while praying your thanks to Gauss and surface integrals. Then apply Persephone’s Oscilloscope to your find. This spell automatically samples the frequencies of any given homunculus and generates an eigenmatrix of the results. That result is the core of their self (plus or minus a few details such as their obsession with miniatures or the way they looked at you as if you mattered).

But a self does not make a whole person. A typical human develops various matrices as they grow. They encode qualities such as love. Humor. Pettiness. Puns. (Do not try to select which matrices you donate. It has never ended well, to our knowledge.)

You, who are now alive and whole but will soon be neither, have these components. You must now strip-mine your selfhood. You must also provide your body–we did say we could not create life–as a vessel for the soul of your Loved One. Do not worry about physical appearance; their soul will take care of such matters.

Do the above by casting Persephone’s Oscilloscope on yourself and applying the results to your Loved One’s eigenmatrix. If it is any consolation, please know that just as an organ donor’s DNA lingers like a memory inside the transplanted tissue, so will your soul exist quietly inside that of your Loved One.

When you are finished, dial the resulting sum, a data packet that shimmers like stardust, out of the wires and back to your platform device.

We do not know how the process feels, for once it is done, the capacity to feel no longer exists, and so we have no firsthand accounts of the experience. But we have perceived this happening to others. The process of disintegrating appears to hurt until the ability to feel pain is lost. We infer this from the cessation of screams that echo down every node and pathway. The loss order of your data is random, but for your sake, we pray that your nerve endings are the first thing to go. After pain, we hope you next lose pleasure, so that it will not hurt in a different way when you lose the ecstasy of lovemaking, the warmth of sunshine, the salt taste of tears, and the face of your Loved One.

Do you know what happens in particle accelerators? How much energy it costs to rip atoms apart into their fundamental particles? How cataclysmic the birth of new matter? This is what will happen to your soul, over and over, until it cannot possibly break down any further, until the only remnant is an infinitesimal mote: a homunculus. You.

6. Postscript

Are you still reading? There is no more you could want to know…unless…you are here for the exception. The only sort of person who cannot be brought back out of the wires: the person who already gave up their body and soul to bring you back from the dead.

We are sorry. It is not possible.

Mathematically speaking, your resurrector’s resonance is forever entangled with yours in all 2^96485 known dimensions that make up a human soul. The Soul Exclusivity Principle of Wolfgang Pauli states that it is impossible for there to exist more than one living being with the same resonance in their soul–as impossible as it is for two or more identical fermions to simultaneously occupy the same quantum state.

In other words, their soul is part of you now. And no soul can occupy more than one life.

Would you be content to seek out their homunculi?

If so, then we can offer you a suggestion. For though they have no hope of life, there is always the hope of love.

Once in a while, you could whisper some kind words into the wires for no one in particular. Tell all of us that you miss one of us. Your atom of love is enough to pierce the darkness.

Your message will eventually find its intended target. Do not worry. We have an eternity to listen for you.

It may seem like very little, but it will be enough for us. We hope it will also be enough for you.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for hoping.

Thank you for loving.

About the Author

Kara Lee

Kara Lee

Kara Lee is a collection of elementary particles and caffeine. She works as a professional technobabbler a.k.a. science writer by day and writes speculative fiction by night. In her spare time, she tempts the laws of physics in the dance studio.

Find more by Kara Lee

Kara Lee

About the Narrator

Katherine Inskip

Katherine Inskip

Katherine Inskip is assistant editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own.  You can find more of her stories at Motherboard, Cast of Wonders, the Dunesteef and Luna Station Quarterly, and forthcoming from Abyss & Apex.

Find more by Katherine Inskip

Katherine Inskip