A Ghost of Our Age
Charles breathed in deeply. After he had done this, there was no going back. These people were very precise – they never left a single piece of information. Did he really want to do this?
Of course you do. Why else would you be here, dumbarse? he thought to himself sternly. He had not travelled twenty two hours to some city he had never heard of just to turn around. No...he had to do this now. Now or never.
"Come on Charlie," his cheerful tone soothed him as he pushed open the cold, metal door, "You've just got a case of the nerves. You've never heard a single complain about them. They're going to be perfect, you'll see."
Slowly, the man began to walk out of the dingy dirty alleyway and through the metal door. It was so desolate here, unlike any place he had ever seen, as there were no people on this small island-city. What was this place? Why was it just...abandoned? If he had just happened upon this place on a ferry trip, the billionaire would have had a mind to buy it and set up his own little utopia for his family.
After the metal door was a long, narrow hallway that had a high-tech door at the very end. It was coded with some fancy lock, requiring the password to get through and seven different keys, none of which he owned. Without any other option he simply started to knock on the door and state quite loudly, "I'm in need of your services. I have an appointment with a Mr. Decoder? Please, I have none of the keys."
It seemed no one could hear him, and Charles was just about to turn around to go and admire the skyscrapers and flat blocks when he heard a faint knock on the other side. He bit his lip.
"What's the password?" A small voice whispered through the metal frame, a child's voice? Maybe; he would not rule out the possibility that the people he was about to meet had a child. Though an empty city seemed the oddest place to raise one.
"Everyone who meets Mr. Decoder gets one. You had an email, right? What was the only word on that email? Unless you tell me, you're not coming in."
His eyes widened and his heart beat quickened. There was an email, oh God what did it say? It was something in a foreign language, Latin maybe, how was he supposed to repeat it?
"Erm, intrare?" The guess must have been correct because three seconds later he heard the door begin to click and clack as key after key was placed inside. The digital clock-like screen changed from red to green and he was soon told to open the entrance and get inside before someone saw.
This place is empty. Who the Hell would see me? He thought as he pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside a wonderfully bright room. The man blinked over and over, trying to get used to the glaring white light from the dimly lit hallway and the even darker outside world. This room was...amazing!
Lines of computers were set up in front of a massive black screen - a screen that looked as if it had not been switched on for years – and coffee machines surrounded the outside like some sort of weird border. Amongst the machines stood hard metallic tables bearing thousands of files or different coloured marker pens...it looked like an office set-up. An odd office, but an office all the same.
The man turned and looked around for the person that had allowed him inside. There was no one there, not anymore; it was as if a ghost had let him in and disappeared seconds later. How was he going to meet this Mr. Decoder if there was no one around to guide him?
Suddenly the Star Trek replica doors at the side lifted and dozens of children started to file out of them. They all wore casual clothing – trainers, jeans, plain t-shirts – and ignored him entirely as they took a computer and started tapping away at the keyboards. He watched intently whilst they worked, admiring their speed and accuracy when they typed out the commands onto the computers and the massive screen turned on to show another child sitting there. He was in a black room and leaning back in a red leather chair with a cocky smile, as if he could see the children working so quietly and efficiently beneath him. Maybe it was a two way webcam thing? Charles had never been very good with technology.
Whilst he was pondering this, a young girl skipped out of the doors and grabbed his hand before taking him through another passage and leading him down a steel hallway. Several more entrances were along the hallway, most possibly leading to bedrooms or a canteen of some sort for the child-workers, and stopped in front of a large door at the very end that replicated the entrance to the office. Only this needed voice recognition to get through instead of keys and a password.
"Mr. Decoder," the little girl interrupted his observing, "Mr. Decoder, we're here for you."
The clock-screen turned from red to green and it crept open slowly to reveal the black, little room that he had seen on the big screen. Only now, he could see the red leather chair and the young boy, turned away from a large computer with several different monitors all varying in size attached. The glow illuminated the room and negated the need for any lights...it all seemed very unnatural.
"Ah, there you are," he said in an oddly cracked voice, "I've been expecting you. I trust that your trip here was not too much trouble, Kirk?"
The billionaire stepped forward and shook his head, unable to speak.
"Good. Now, you want to become a ghost, right? You want to disappear from the records of today and start a new life, am I correct?"
"Yes. I don't want the hassle of my wife anymore and I want her to believe I died."
"We can do that. Well, I can do that. That's the funny thing about this day and age," he turned around effortlessly on his spinning chair and began to tap on his computer, "It used to be so difficult to erase your name from the book. You'd have to up-sticks and leave your little home but the church would send around messages to other churches to steer clear of you, or the village people would pass it on to friends and family. These days' people feel so informed, but they're actually less informed. It's all a wonderful little illusion!"
"Yes, yes," Charles said with faint irritation, "Could you just get on with it and get rid of my records?"
As soon as he said it Mr. Decoder started to bring up all the personal information he thought would be securely locked away in government libraries. The child began to erase them with only a few taps of his fingers, humming the British national anthem as he did it. It was all so confusing and frightening that a bunch of children could get access to this stuff.
"How did you manage to do all this? Isn't this stuff secured?" He asked eventually when his curiousity got the better of him.
"With the right codes and enough skill, anyone can hack the databases. We even have NASA information. We're connected to every single country in the world that have the internet and, with that in mind, we have billions of people's information on demand when we want it. It's so easy these days to get rid of someone – you just need to get on a computer, find his private records and delete them," the child replied, "Now, I'm issuing your death certificate, making it legitimate. To everyone you know and love, Charles Mali is dead. I've also taken the liberty of making your new identity."
"Perfect! Who am I?"
"Leonard Javier – a business man from Hawaii with a residence in Beverly Hills, America. You're married to a Russian beauty named Delphi, who will not question your marriage and will recall it perfectly. I've already sent my workers to go and drug her and implant the memories, so you don't need to worry about that," suddenly he brought up Charles' bank account and looked at the balance with a faint interest.
"Ah yes, payment. What do you think will be acceptable?" The newly named Leonard said gleefully, not caring about the price tag of his new lease on life. But he noticed that Mr. Decoder had fallen completely silent now, inspecting the balance so closely as if he wanted it imprinted in his mind. "By the way, what is this place? Why is there a completely empty city above you?"
The child answered him with a distracted tone, "We needed a place to stay, so we sent a false evacuation message to the people that lived here and then sent internet reports to news websites saying it had been destroyed by a tsunami. We hacked MI5 and changed its status to destroyed, closed its file, and now it's our own private residence."
"What happened to all the people?"
"How should I know? They were all re-homed I suppose – after we evacuated them we didn't need to worry about them," he laughed and turned to his client, "Now, payment."
"What do you want?"
"We're going to drain your bank account of all its money."
"That's over three billion-"
"And you have three children. We're going to need all three as recruits for our team, and then you can go off and start your new life with Delphi," it was as if the child did not realise the gravity of what he just asked. He said it with such a casual tone.
"And what if I refuse to give you my children? They haven't done anything to you," he growled angrily and narrowed his eyes.
"We don't need your permission. We'll be taking your children and issuing their missing child reports, and then their death certificates," Mr. Decoder answered, "You agreed to this when you chose to come to us. Now, leave, and if you tell anyone we are here we will kill you. Good day."
Leonard was suddenly pushed away and swept out of the high-tech basement, thrown outside into the odd empty city and forced to the shore, where a boat was waiting for him. The child escorts beside him looked up at him with their big, saucer eyes and then pointed towards the city with a smile.
He turned to see it, in all its glory. It was a bit like New York, but far more quiet and now only with a few pigeons residing within its strong structures. Cars that had been abandoned still lingered on the streets and boxes were strewn about, but their contents destroyed by the weather over the few years. It truly had been a wonderful city...but now it was a home to that small population underneath it.
"Goodbye Mr. Javier. Please refrain from leaving the boat until you have reached your destination. When you leave it, it will explode," and with that, the children left him to steer his own boat, and wandered into the abandoned city.
Leonard stepped onto the boat and started it up, thinking to himself how much he had just sacrificed. His children's futures, his money, and the ability to speak to any members of his family from now on – was it worth it?
I guess we'll find out, he thought as he set sail towards America to go and find his new home and his new wife. He started pondering the possibilities with those children's abilities, and realised to himself that if he had an army like that at his disposal, he would be able to make any of his enemy's ghosts in the eyes of the government and maybe even the world.
But he would not risk it...not yet anyway.