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Lost Souls

Ray Daley was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served 6 years in the RAF as a clerk and spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet and has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitchhikers fanfic novel he's been writing since 1986. Get in touch with him on Twitter @RayDaleyWriter. raymondwriteswrongs.wordpress.com.

We put the word out. To be honest, we didn't even need to do that. All we had to do was be overheard talking about it in front of the right group of people, then they put the word out for us.
"Is this the place where I can speak to my long-dead loved ones?"
We told him, yes, of course, it was the place. After all, he'd been standing in a line a mile long for the last thirteen days to get in. We were pretty sure everyone knew what went on inside these four walls, but still, you always get one in ten people asking, if they've been waiting in line for thirteen days to get into the right place.
"Okay, how much does it cost?"
We explained it was free, that as necromancers we were forbidden by lore to accept money, but they could force us to take it at sword-point, if they insisted.
"Okay, I want to speak to my dear old dad. He's been dead these last twenty years."
We asked him to step up to the marked spot on the floor, prick his finger with the keen-edged dagger in front of him and to spell his name nice and clearly for recording purposes only.
"What's with the glass, fellas?"
We explained that the living can't touch the dead, but the dead do like to try and take things back with them so we make sure our patrons remain one hundred percent safe during the procedure by erecting a plate of specially reinforced glass. And not to lean on it. Because it's an utter bugger trying to get the greasy stains off.
"So, conjuring up dear old dad?"
We asked him to tell us dad's name, just so we knew we were invoking the right spirit. We also asked exactly when dad had died, just to double-check because it's no fun to queue for thirteen days, only to meet the spirit of someone who has no idea who the hell you are, and why you've dragged them from their eternal rest amongst the choir invisible. Then we asked him to stand still as the lights were about to go out, and that we didn't want him to break the spell by stepping out of the conjuring circle.
"Dad! It's really you! How have you been? Is Mum there with you?"
He got thirty seconds with dear old dad, before the mists of time and space began to gather, severing our connection with the netherworld.
"Blimey! That was actually him. You can raise the spirits of the dead!"
We told him of course we could, and that he should go home immediately and tell all his friends and neighbors so they could come and visit with the revived souls of their deceased friends and loved ones. Then we gave him a plaster for that nick on his fingertip and pointed him towards the exit with a polite but quite firm shove outside.
And we repeated this about a thousand times every day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Mostly more, if we're honest.
To the point where we had to build another hundred structures exactly like this one. We replicated the robes, because everyone expects a necromancer to wear robes. We started adding smoke which smelled of decaying flesh. The odd flashing light now and then to interrupt their night vision from developing.
Little by little, the word got out all over the planet. That there were these places you could go and commune with the spirits of the dead.
I got sick of wearing the robe after the first ten years. I developed sores on the back of my neck where the cord keeping it tight dug into my skin.
"It's all right, Boss, we can use one of the samples to fix that."
He's got a point. We've got a genetic database of almost the whole planet now. We can grow any organ, replicate any blood type, or otherwise synthesize any body part for our ever-increasing Empire. It's a nice little racket we've got going here. Our spies spend five years living with the people, copying any photographs they may have. Recording every voice they hear, cataloguing it. Feeding it into our language matrix.
Give it about ten words to go on, and we can replicate any conversation, so you would think you were speaking to the original person, and not a synthesized simulation.
It sounds bad. It sounds like we're lying to these people. That we're conning them, taking advantage of their suffering for our own gain. But that's as far from the truth as is possible.
In the old days, we'd just land, enslave everyone and brutally harvest them for body parts when we needed them. At least now all we take are a few drops of blood, for genetic replication. They get a chance to chin-wag with a dead family member, friend, or loved one; and we'll leave the planet once we've got samples from everyone.
Great-great-granddad said the last planet took them four hundred years to complete. We plan on everyone on this world sampled in twenty.
They call us necromancers. I'm sure they'll be pretty angry when they find out we duped them, but at least they won't be slaves. Or dead. In fact, I hope they'll be praising our compassion when they hear what we did on the last planet. It'd be such a shame to have to revert to an older, inferior business model.
Anyway. Back to the queue, I suppose? NEXT!
"Is this the place where I can speak to my long-dead loved ones?"
We try not to roll our eyes at him, but it's difficult after all this time. "Yes, sir...."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Author Comments

"Lost Souls" was a bit of an experiment in form, for me. I wanted to see if I could write a story about a specific subject without letting the reader know what it was about until the very end. I'm a big fan of the Borg, and I'd been rewatching several episodes about them, so I thought I'd write a mass invasion/take-over story. "Lost Souls" was the result.

- Ray Daley
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