The former soldier was perched on the rooftop of a downtown skyscraper. In the dim light of the stars and moon above he couldn’t read the list of names in his hand but it didn’t matter. He knew every name on that list by heart.

Men and women he had served with in Iraq, Afghanistan and a few other places that were technically not at war. He had come back home, the people on that list had not. But he would fix that tonight. One short hop and a long fall would take care of his problems.

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“Is tonight the night you’re going to do it?’ The raspy voice startled him. How had someone approached up here without him realizing?

He turned and saw a figure clad in black with a billowing trenchcoat. The figure’s face was hidden under a dark hat. Red circles that the soldier identified as lenses of night vision goggles covered the stranger’s eyes.

“The Ghost?” he asked.

He had grown up hearing stories of the Ghost, the protector of the City. Sightings of the Ghost went back to Prohibition days, when he supposedly battled gangs of bootleggers. Recent accounts had the Ghost adding hacking to his list of skills. He was supposedly sending hacked files proving corruption to news sites signed Ghost in the Machine.

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“I’ve been watching you,” the raspy voiced dark figure said. “Every night for the last month you’ve come up here and looked at that paper in your hand. You haven’t jumped yet so you haven’t given up completely on yourself.”

“What do you know about me?”

“Quite a lot. I was curious about you so I did some research. Your military record is quite impressive, especially the classified parts. You have a knack for getting into places and doing things that few possess. Unfortunately that knack didn’t extend to the people around you. But you shouldn’t feel guilty about their deaths.”

“They were all good people. Why am I alive when they’re dead?”

“No one can answer that question. But instead of drowning in guilt you can make a difference and have a purpose.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think you know who I am. There have been nine of us to carry the name Ghost. One of the most important tasks of the current Ghost is to find a worthy successor. I think you would make a formidable Ghost in the Machine in time. You have a good set of skills already. I can teach you the rest. Are you interested?”

The two men stared at each other for a moment. The soldier carefully folded the list in his hand and put it into his pocket. “I’ve never been one to run from a challenge,” he said. “Let’s go.”

When the ninth Ghost took a bullet to the knee two years later, he knew it was time to pass on the title. The former soldier became the tenth Ghost, also known as Ghost in the Machine.

(Top image - a rare photo of the first Ghost circa 1930)