I wrote this story as a follow up to Ghosts in Space when the competition theme was rage back in June. I seem to remember planning to write a third part, but can’t find anything. Whilst writing it I was listening to this piece of music:
The Ghosts’ Ruin
My trip to the “streets” of my youth was unsuccessful. I’d travelled to the space station where I grew up in order to help the children there, to help those without homes, to show that someone out there in the black cared about them. I’d grown up without a home, ignored by society as I fended for myself. Most kids don’t make it out of that lifestyle, but I got lucky and made a life for myself beyond the streets of space, and I vowed to go back to do whatever I could to prevent others from having to live that way. I searched all the familiar spots, crawling through air ducts which were much more comfortable to crawl through as a child, hanging around the best places from which to steal food, looking in all of the old nooks and crannies which provided a small amount of shelter at night, but a week of searching led to nothing.
I’d almost given up when I finally found what I was looking for. The child managed to get away from me for a while, but he hadn’t anticipated that I’d know the station as well as he did. When I finally cornered him he was trembling, staring at my dog tags. “You’ve come to take me as well, haven’t you?” he said as he cowered in the corner. His reaction startled me, but I knew why I was there, so I stretched out my hand, “I was once a ghost like you, but now I’m alive. I’ve come to help you live.” It took a while to gain his trust, but it was worth it. Most people seemed to call him ‘rat’, but his friends always called him Dirk, a name which he had chosen for himself because he couldn’t remember his birth name. All of his friends had gone, they’d been taken, and Dirk didn’t know where they had gone but it could not be good, they’d been taken by force and not all had survived the abduction.
I left the station as soon as possible, leaving Dirk with a trusted friend as I set out to find the truth. I was a commissioned military officer, able to access sensitive information, but there was nothing about the abductions whenever I searched the files I could access. It took months of clandestine meetings, slipping cash to the right people – or the wrong people if you are on the receiving end of their activities – in order to get the information I was after. I had to stay in my office late into the night in order for the informant to make the drop. It could not be done via computer, as with most communications, as they were too heavily monitored. If the government got wind of my investigations I would be wiped out in a second, but what could they be hiding? I poured myself a small glass of whiskey as a cleaner came in to empty the bins and give the floor a quick clean. I took my drink to the window and stared at the stars until he left. When I turned back around I saw a file on my desk; it contained the answers I craved.
I knocked the whiskey back quickly and it burnt my throat, but it calmed me, ready for what I was about to read. I poured another drink and kept it firm in my hand. I saw layouts of several space stations, instantly recognising the one I once called home. Someone had marked all the old familiar routes around the station, those used only by the ghosts, the homeless children like Dirk. I started shaking as I read an order to catch and detain them all – I could have been one of them if this order had gone through earlier. I thumbed through photograph after photograph of malnourished children dressed in old rags; nearly every street child ran afoul of the law at some point, but they did nothing more than document you and your crime. I spilled my drink on the picture of Dirk, that poor boy only narrowly escaped whatever fate had befallen his friends.
I finished what was left of my drink and attempted to shake some sense into myself. For all I knew they had been taken to a safe place, but why would it be a secret? I calmed down and continued to flick through the photographs, noticing that the quality was getting worse. I started seeing familiar faces, old friends whom I thought I would never see again. Then I saw the most familiar face of all staring back at me, trying to look as innocent as possible despite having been caught stealing food. I had to know what had happened to those children; I had to know what could have happened to me. None of the files seemed to say what had happened to them, I’d paid good money for blueprints and photos when I wanted more than that. I slammed my glass down in anger and went to pour another drink when I spotted it: a small computer chip had been cleverly concealed at the back of the file, shaken loose by the slamming of my glass.
I was able to access the files on the chip through a handheld console, as I did not trust the computer on my desk. It contained a video, poorly filmed as it was obviously a secret, probably using a camera hidden in someone’s beret. I didn’t recognise the facility through which the cameraman had travelled, but it was clearly military and clearly top secret. He passed through a maze of corridors, through numerous high security doors, eventually ending up deep underground. He was led into a hospital room, where a child was lying unconscious on a bed. There was something odd about the child and it wasn’t until the camera got closer that I saw what was wrong. One of his arms had been replaced with a gun and he had a wound which looked like it was caused by the same weapon.
I continued to watch, crushing the whiskey glass in my hand when I saw that they weren’t just testing this technology on the children by turning them into weapons, but were forcing them to test it on each other. I didn’t care about the shards of glass in my hand as I watched Dirk’s friends forced to fight each other or be executed on the spot. Tears filled my eyes and I started to shake violently. It could have been me. My breathing got heavier. None of this made sense. I clenched my fists, pushing the glass further into my wounds. How could anyone do that to innocent children? I wanted to scream and shout at someone, but nobody was there. My head was swimming, I could see no further than my desk so I flung it over, smashing it into the wall. That felt good. I picked up the chair and hurled it through the window. Maybe I could destroy them from the inside, just smash everything I could see. It made sense at the time. I shouted some threat out of the window, I don’t remember what I said, it was all a blur, but I made a new vow that night. I would get revenge for the ghosts. I would stop this from happening to any other child. I’d never killed anyone before, but at that moment I felt like I needed to.
I could not let those feelings consume me, I had work to do, but for that night I relished them. I grabbed the whiskey bottle and looked back at my scene of destruction. I wanted to do that to the face of every official I saw in that video.