What follows is Part 1 of what I imagine as a 3 part story. The main character is Detective Dick, named after Dick Fausel, who so far is the highest donor for Whiteout’s GoFundMe campaign. So, big thanks to Dick for his support, and enjoy Part 1 of Ghosting.
Also, thanks to KC Fonts, which is where I found the font used for the title above.
I got to do this job for twenty years before they started introducing ghosts. They were nothing more than civilians with high scores on empathy exams. Most of them couldn’t have passed the basic police screening, but the program was funded by donors with deep pockets, so it continued. Some people thought we were training telepaths; crock of shit if you ask me. There’s nothing telepathic about the way a ghost works, just some strong technology prying on innate emotional capabilities. If you took a neural cord and plugged yourself into the deceased, you might feel something too…
The First Ghost
The first recorded instance of successful ‘ghosting’ was two years after the program’s inception, and believe me, it was far from their first try. Somewhere in the capitol, there’s a long list in a locked cabinet of where the bodies are hidden. You don’t start a revolutionary program without losing a few candidates. At least, that’s what our superiors would say each time they carried out a sheet-covered figure on a stretcher.
That first night, several of the departments best detectives were called to a suspected homicide location, woman dead in her apartment, multiple stab wounds. Any real detective could have told you to suspect the husband, but top brass wanted to make sure their money was being well spent. In truth, it was a layup, so they brought in a ghost.
He was a thin, waif of a kid, looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. I figured him for a techno-baby, someone who stayed indoors all day and didn’t mind much that the tall buildings blotted out the sun. The silver eye tattooed on his forehead also fit the profile. The center glinted with a small metallic piece, reminiscent of the RAM district.
The press would have gathered around to see it if they’d been let in, and trust me, they tried. Luckily, the captain at the time was a man who respected privacy, and press were pushed away with what some later called undue force.
The waif looked at the murder scene like it was nothing. In hindsight, he had probably trained on much worse. He unshouldered a bag and pulled out a neural cord. On the outside it looks simple, like an extension cord with a raised circle on either end about the size of a silver dollar. It was originally invented as a therapeutic device for re-living traumatic memories, but that didn’t last long. When the government got wind, they contracted the creator, and six months later we had the ghost program.
The waif laid a small sheet on the ground next to the dead woman and with gentle, but deliberate movements, the waif placed one end of the neural cord on her forehead. He thumbed a button on the side, there was an audible click, followed by a sick puncturing noise, like a watermelon being broken. That’s a sound I’ll never forget. I averted my eyes briefly, and saw a photograph of the woman, her husband, and her father propped up on a dresser. I remember thinking: If he fucks this up, there’s going to be more than a few lawsuits from her family.
If the waif was bothered by it, he didn’t show any sign. He held the other end of the neural cord and aligned it carefully with the tattoo on his forehead. When he was satisfied, he pressed the button and once more there was the same click, but no sound of puncturing. His body slackened almost immediately, a and he collapsed on the floor. Silence swept over the room in a wave.
A smart-dressed man, whom I later discovered to be the ghost program’s sponsor, pulled out a pocket watch and began timing. I swear, the ticking of that clock was the loudest thing in the room. The room held a collective breath, wondering if our paperwork at the morgue was about to double. The waif’s eyes twitched back and forth, but his body remained still. I felt a strange pity for him, wondering what pain he would be forced to endure to solve an already open-and-shut case. But, as always, management had their reasons.
Fifteen minutes passed. The sponsor was walking over to check the waif’s pulse when he jolted awake, tearing the cord from his forehead. The woman’s corpse gave a final jolt as if it had been hit with strong electricity. The waif lay on the floor for a minute, unable to speak, covered in sweat. At first, all he could do was gasp. I later learned the experience is similar to being brought back by a defibrillator. Then, he managed one word: “Him”.
The waif pointed to the picture on the woman’s dresser. It was of her, the husband, and an older gentleman.
“See, I told you it was the husband,” cracked one of the other detectives. “We just desecrated a corpse for nothing.” Most of the police force didn’t believe in the program, much less respect it.
I felt much of the same, that was, until the waif shook his head. He stood, uneasily, but gaining stability, and walked over to the shelf. He looked at the picture and pointed to the older man. “Not the husband. The father.”
We were set on patrol and an APB was put out with a description of both the father and the husband, just in case. The husband quickly called in. He’d been working late in a secured facility, no cell phone service. In other words, he was clear.
I think to some extent we all knew the waif was right. Sure enough, later that night we picked up the father in an opium den, blubbering in a corner and trying to numb the pain. He confessed as soon as he saw the blue uniform walking through the door. That was that. We brought him in, he signed a confession, and corporate had their first success story for a highly experimental program. Before long, ghosting was just a part of the way we did things.
I stuck to the old ways, finding the procedure to be unkind to the deceased, despite its results. It was all just too invasive, and I didn’t believe the talk of minimal side effects. I had sworn never to try it, and the police chief let me stay on because I was still damned good at assisting those who would. Several times the department had me tested for empathy, and invariably they’d bring me in, begging me to join, offering raises, promotions, you name it. Each time, I told them no. I was unwavering in my commitment until a snowy day in November, when everything changed.