Modern day AU. The FBI Agent who was in charge of hunting down the notorious Ghost gives his testimony.
You are here of your own free will and will give us a full testimony, not holding anything back, not telling any lies?
That is why I am here. But I can't tell everything, some things are confidential and I will refuse to answer to these questions.
Begin with your name and give us the story chronologically, please.
My name is Dr. Amir Khan, FBI agent, BAU. It was my first case, I was a young agent who had just been accepted into the forensic team of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, I am a forensic psychiatrist. Usually we were not involved in normal crime investigation like drug smugglers and human trafficking. But that was an unusual case. There was a criminal organization led by a man we called the Sultan. The Sultan was certainly not from the Orient, he just loved everything from the East, his house looked like a smaller copy of the Topkapi Palace. He sourrounded himself with people from the Orient and lived in an environment that was stark contrast to the usual mobster in the USA.
It was in the late 1990's. The internet certainly was not what it is today, but it already existed. And with internet cyber crime came up.
I thought the Sultan was in the drug smuggling business?
He was. That's how he made his money. He had some building enterprizes that did legal jobs and were used as money laundry. The Sultan was a minor player we didn't think much about - until we were able to round up some of the major players and the Sultan suddenly was the big player. We certainly did not like the fact that the FBI had enabled his career by removing the other mobsters. But that certainly was not why I was called in.
The Sultan had a hitman they called the Ghost. The Ghost was... well... we did not know much about him. There were few witnesses who had ever seen him. The Sultan kept that man hidden in his palace and if the man was to leave the house he was completely covered. At first he was mistaken for a woman. You know, like women in Saudi Arabia cover themselves in niqabs and abayas. We thought the figure in black might be one of the Sultan's lovers until we learned of rumors of a new hitman the Sultan had. The horrible thing about that hitman was that he could take down whole mafia clans by providing information, that he could kill using the internet. If he wanted to remove someone, he would hack into that man's medical files and either remove vital information like allergy to some medicine or add false information so that man would be given the wrong medication.
We even knew he was a genius, but no one knew what he looked like, we weren't even sure if he was a man at all. He could have been a woman. But we knew that the Ghost was the most feared hitman. He didn't need much, just a computer and a telephone cable, that was enough to place reports in police computers, to fake orders and even use the police to remove the men he wanted to take down. The Sultan wasn't the main goal - the goal was to find a way to make the Ghost change sides and become one of us. We could use someone like the Ghost on our side.
That's were I came in. I had been rejected as FBI agent because... well... because of my body weight. I was too fat to be an agent, they said. And that was what made me perfect for my role as undercover agent. They knew that the Sultan had psychiatrists in his employment. Don't ask how they found out, I don't know that. I just know that they had this information. Obviously someone in the Sultan's closest family was mentally ill and needed constant help. To make me undercover agent was a great risk, I wasn't trained for that, but the other's had been exposed. The Sultan had somehow gained access to the computers through the internet that was only being build up that time and knew some of the agents. We did not know whom he knew and whom he didn't so they decided to take the new one - the one who was not an agent at all - me.
I'm not sure how they placed me in the organization. The Sultan officially looked for a psychiatrist to care for someone through his official, legal existence. I just had to pretend not to know who he was. Officially he was just the owner of a building enterprize.
A great risk, I know, and I knew I would not get any backup, I knew I might end up dead in some unmarked grave, just disappear for good, but I was young and reckless that time.
I was brought in to care for the Sultan's adopted son. This was a surprize, we knew he was married and had several daughters, but we did not know about a boy.
I was told the boy was mentally disturbed and needed help, I was to befriend him, to live with him and care for every need, meaning I would be his nurse, his butler and whatever else the boy needed. I pretended to be happy to have such well-paid job, being the child of poor immigrants I had not many chances in my life.
They took me to a flat in the Sultan's palace. It was the messy flat of a teenager who lived alone without anyone to care for him. If I say messy, I mean really messy. Imagine the worst mess a teenage boy can leave and double it, then you get what I saw. I saw one of the Sultan's daughters dressed in a pink leizure suit and a teenage boy dressed in grey pyjamas, wearing a mask. They sat on the couch, ate pizza and played a video game. It was such a normal scene - except for the boy's mask. When the boy noticed me, he fled. It took weeks until he tolerated my presence, even longer until he spoke to me and allowed me to tidy his flat. The girl was the only one he seemed to accept and that was how the Sultan kept the boy in line.
Looking back I think the boy was in love with the Sultana - that's how we codenamed the girl.
It took me two years to win the boy's trust. The boy - the Sultan's family just called him Achmed - really was mentally disturbed. He was almost unable to deal with anything that disturbed his routine, he did not understand any social interaction. He did not even understand that people had feelings. He was really surprised when I asked him not to make such a mess each day because cleaning up for him was really strenous. He did not understand that I had any feelings, he just saw me in my function as his butler. Maybe he did not know I was a psychiatrist then, maybe he did, I don't know. He generally tended to see people only in their functions, even if that was the function of being removed by him.
Because, as I learned observing him, he was the dreaded Ghost. You can't imagine my surprise when I found out. The one we were after was a teenage boy who regarded all the computer hacking he did just like any normal teenager saw computer games. He did not care that he killed, to him there was no difference between a character in a video game and a real human being. The only one he cared for was the Sultana, he would have done everything for her so the Sultan usually used his daughter to give Achmed the commands.
The more the internet developed and the more the boy grew up the more dangerous he became. And I still had not really made a connection that would allow me an opportunity to give him lectures in morality and the difference between good and bad. He barely left his large flat, usually only when he was told to, and then he kept himself fully covered all the time and refused to speak to anyone. I think he showed strong autistic traits but I also know they could very well be abuse-induced.
The poor boy must have suffered terrible abuse. When he was ill I saw him without his mask. He... is deformed. His face is a mess, someone had cut off his ears and his nose, his face is scarred like he had fell into the fire with his head. Maybe he had. I don't know and he does not remember, it must have happened when he was very young.
When he finally began to trust me, I learned that he did not know anything but the flat in the Sultan's palace, that he did not remember his true family or his true name. He had always been kept there, all his life, at first as a living doll for the Sultana, later, when they learned just how clever he was, as a servant of the Sultan. Achmed didn't think drugs or human trafficking a bad thing, to him it was as normal as every other business. To him the Sultan was just another businessman delivering needed services and goods. That's how he thought of all people - he just saw their functions. No one had ever taught him the difference between right or wrong.
Achmed has the savant syndrome. He's a genius with computers and with music. He does not like computers, he's just terribly good with them, his real interest is music. So they used music to reward him for successfully finishing a task they had given him, they didn't need much, they just needed to allow him to use the large sound studio in the cellar. Such a cheap prize for his services, but he did not need money. They provided everything for him and he stayed and did what they told him. He stayed and obeyed out of habit. For all his genius, he was extremely easy to control and they had the perfect tool - the Sultana.
But in the end you succeeded?
That was not my doing. It was his. One day he learned that the Sultana would be married. His world shattered, he became violent, hurting and even killing some of the servants, then he became depressed, lying in his bed for weeks and I was barely able to get him to eat and drink enough so he would survive. He was devastated and then he decided to take revenge. He wanted everything to stay as it always had been, that the Sultana was leaving was unbearable.
I learned how much trust I had won when he confronted me with his plan: He would deliver the whole organization if we would lock him and the Sultana up in his flat. He already was more or less a prisoner so he thought that if the Sultan and everyone else would be removed and the FBI locked him and the Sultana up together his world would very much stay the same. A horribly naive thought, but I didn't realize that in my shock that he knew that I was an undercover agent. He knew and he had not informed anyone. Obviously he felt betrayed by the Sultana when he found out about me and decided that I could help him.
Of course I jumped at the opportunity. We all did. Achmed delivered the information and all evidence we needed to take them down. Only the FBI betrayed him too - he was taken into custody too and he went mad. He had always reacted badly even to minor changes, being taken from the world he knew and thrown into some special prison was too much for him. He tried to kill himself in his panic, we tried to sedate him - which did not work. Unfortunately he is immune to almost every narcotic. It just does not work on him.
That's when they called me in again. They had hoped to get a sophisticated genius they could use immediately to do some work for them - and they got a panicked child who was unable to take care of his most basic needs in his panicked state. He suffered physical symptoms the doctors could not place - he seemed to be in a state of withdrawal. That's what he was, he suffered withdrawal from computers. In the prison cell he had no access to computers and that caused the withdrawal symptoms.
My idea was to offer him music. Give him what he needed. Music therapy, a piano. It worked. The piano calmed him down enough we were able to get him to eat, to sleep again. He was alife. But he did not function, not that he did not want to, but the panic he suffered made it impossible for him to get any work done. Here was a teenager who had exposed FBI agents by hacking into the computers of the FBI and now he could not even use the most basic programms, he could not write anything. He just could not, in his panic he could not think.
He was never tried in a court trial. They just declared Achmed the Ghost dead and gave him a new identity, making him "John Doe" and then "Erik Black", a new identity, a new life. Only Erik could not take that, he was incapable of living. He was mentally too disturbed.
We needed to break the vicious cycle of panic.
I took him to the garden. There he lied down flat on his stomach in the grass and for the first time in his life touched grass. He knew plants, but he had never touched them. He was like a very small child, for the first time discovering the wonders of nature. The dreaded Ghost was just a mentally disturbed boy who now spend hours each day lying in the grass watching ants. The evil genius who could breach all computer security measures in the FBI - a boy who only began learning feelings.
He was like a toddler. I soon learned that he needed to love someone or something to keep him stable. That's why we got him a pony, an old mare. He absolutely loved the pony and decided to live in the stable now, to sleep in the stable to be close to his new friend. The pony took over the role the Sultana had previously played. That's how they began to control him. They did very much the same the Sultan did, they locked him up and abused him. Manipulated him into working for the FBI and CIA now, used him to fight for the right cause, but in the end I rejected what they did.
Erik was a man, a human being and not a computer programm or robot. He deserved to be able to live. He deserved better than just trading one prison for another. I was determined to make him a man, to educate him, to teach him to be human.
My superiors first hated the idea. A boy locked up in a special prison was easy to control. If he would be allowed to live as a human being, who knew if he decided to stay at their side? Who knew if he would be willing to work for them or if he would fall under the influence of another criminal gang, or some corrupt foreign regime?
In the end I got the permission to help him. The danger of placing matters of national security in the hands of a mentally ill boy was too great. A sane man would be of much better use to the government.
At first I needed to get him away from living in his virtual world, living for music and computers. I needed to anchor him to the real world, teach him basic things about life. Erik was eighteen when he learned that one could clean a cup. He hadn't known that before. Of course he had seen others cleaning cups but he was - and is - only in a very limited way capable of learning something from someone else. Usually a child observes others doing something and tries that himself. Erik doesn't. It is like he has to invent everything anew, but he is clever enough to do so.
My idea to anchor him to a life as normal as possible was to take him to a remote farm. There was no electricity. There was a simple life. Ponies, dogs and sheep. Nothing more. Much nature, almost no humans. We were to live with the farmer and his sheep.
At first Erik again went through terrible withdrawal symptoms. The real life seemed to be too slow for him, he had troubles adjusting. He was restless - except when he had time with his pony or was allowed to use the piano. He had to learn so much, but the way he began to take in the nature was breathtaking.
It was experimental treatment but it was such a success. Erik was in charge of his pony and some of the sheep. At first he panicked, unable to care for another being, but after some months he knew what to do and he loved his animals. He loved them so much and I think he was happy.
But making him some shepherd wasn't your goal.
No. My goal was to get him to actually care for others, to learn to regard other people's feelings and we just started working on that with animals.
It worked. It worked much better than I had thought. One morning I woke because the dogs were barking like mad. The farmer and I rushed to see what was going on and there he was - Erik stood there in the grass on that foggy, cold morning. He stood there barefooted in his grey pyjamas and faced a bear. He talked to the bear, telling the animal not to hunt the sheep for Erik loved them. Erik offered himself as the bear's food but the animal did not attack. I have no idea why, maybe the bear just didn't know what to do with Erik, utterly surprised by the odd behavior. Erik never turned his back to the bear but went to fetch a chicken which he finally threw at the bear and the bear took the chicken and went away. It was... a mystical feeling. I had just seen Erik risking his own life to save his beloved sheep, the dogs and the pony.
That moment I knew there was much good in him. If we got him to care for humans he would be able to become a protector of humankind. He could be such a great man.
You say that as if it was a failure?
It was. But that was neither my nor his fault. Eventually I was forced to take him back to human society. To teach him to live in a normal flat, to drive a car, to go shopping, to care for himself. He immediately got a job in the CIA and the FBI becoming their hitman in the darknet. Yes, with the internet the darknet developed and to Erik the darknet is certainly nothing mysterious. He can track everyone in the darknet down as easily as if they would send him a direct message. That's his job - he counters spies and tracks down criminals. He's good at that and with his help we made the world a saver place.
But at the same time my success in trying to make him human was countered. I got a boy who had been forged into nothing but a weapon and made him a man capable of caring for others, for animals and even human beings. A genius. A great man.
I gave you a man capable of being good, of being one of the greatest men on earth and what did you do? Use him as a weapon again. Use him against corrupt regimes, against dictators and terrorists.
And now you have a man who can hack into every computer in the world, who can kill with just one klick, who has access to every information in the internet and the darknet, who might launch atomic bombs just because he wants to. He could be the best in tracking down cyber criminals - or he can be the king of cyber crime.
The main problem was that the people who tried to make him a weapon again succeeded, they gave him even more tools, taught him even more skills.
Why do you make this sound like it was a problem?
Because he is gone! I lost track of him, he has gone into hiding again. He could be everywhere in the world, despite his handicap of having to hide his face. We don't know where he is and what he is up to. But now he is no longer a boy incapable of caring for himself. He is a man who can do everything he wants to do, he can care for himself, he no longer needs anyone.
And what makes him most dangerous now is that no one, not even I know what he really wants and why.
And that is all your fault, because you wanted to abuse him like everyone else had done. You wanted to make him the perfect weapon. Congratulations, you succeeded, only now that perfect weapon is following no one but his own will. Erik is out of control.
Out of control, am I? The man reading the file thought. Well then, my old friend, what did you think? That you ever had any control over me? That I ever needed you? That YOU would be the one to control me for my own good? Forget it, dear friend, I do not need you. Not now. Not ever again. All I need is HER.
Thank you for reading and please leave a review. This is my idea of how a modern day version of the Persian's tale could be like.